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Rescuers fear climber took “unsurvivable” fall on Mount Rainier’s Liberty Ridge

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on June 14, 2011 at 1:04 pm with 4 Comments »
June 14, 2011 3:51 pm

Rescuers fear that a climber who was left high on the slopes of Mount Rainier on Monday may have fallen 2,000 feet down Liberty Ridge

“The fall would have been unsurvivable,” park spokeswoman Lisa Lombard said.

While she said rescuers have been unable to confirm that the 50-year-old Olympia man fell she said “it was most likely him.”

Rescuers searching by air spotted a slide path and no sign of Rob Plankers.

Rescue crews continue to search the area, but the Chinook helicopter has returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a lighter helicopter is now being used to search the area.

Rob Plankers of Olympia is reportedly an experienced mountaineer. He was reportedly suffering from hypothermia and frostbite and was unable to walk so his climbing partners left him behind to go for help. It is unclear if the other members of the party were experiencing similar conditions.


Mount Rainier rescue rangers are working to rescue Rob Plankers of Olymia high on the slopes of the mountain today. The initial search was unsuccessful and the helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord refueled and returned the mountain while ground crews worked their way to the locaion. Plankers was left in a bivy sack at 13,600 feet, about 500 feet below Liberty Cap.

The climbing party that continued on would have had to climb to Liberty Cap 14,122 feet then descend into the gap between the cap and the mountain’s 14,411-foot summit. From there they’d traverse east then descend Emmons Glacier.

We have three reporters covering this story. Check out the latest here.

From Jeremy Pawloski in Olympia:

A 50-year-old Olympia man stuck on Mount Rainier is an experienced climber who has worked as a buyer for the outdoors retailer Alpine Experience for the past 12 years, Alpine Experience owner Joe Hyer said Tuesday.

Hyer said he and friends and family of Robert Plankers, 50, are “cautiously optimistic” that Plankers is okay and will be rescued safely today at about the 13,000-foot level above Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier. Plankers and two other climbers had embarked on a climb from the bottom of the Liberty Ridge route on Sunday.

Plankers has a wife in Olympia who is extremely concerned for her husband’s welfare, Hyer said. “She’s coping as best she can,” he said.

The two other climbers with Plankers went for help Monday after Plankers was unable to continue on the climb. Hyer said Tuesday that details about Plankers’ condition are sketchy, but early reports from authorities are that he may be suffering from frostbite and hypothermia. A lot depends on the weather conditions during the past two days Plankers has been stuck on the mountain and whether he has been able to stay dry, he said.

The Liberty Ridge climb is considered one of the more technical and dangerous routes on Mount Rainier, Hyer said.

Reports indicate that Plankers’ makeshift encampment may be about 1,000 feet below the summit, he added. A rescue team was trying to make its way down from the summit to reach Plankers on Tuesday.

A helicopter is believed to be attempting a rescue Tuesday with the assistance of the rescue team. Visibility and wind prevented a helicopter from rescuing Plankers on Monday.

Plankers has worked at Alpine Experience since 1999 after retiring from the military, Hyer said.

“I am cautiously optimistic because I know him and I know his experience,” Hyer said.





Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. levesque says:

    why did they both leave him? One could have gone for help and one stayed with him. guess common sense is in short supply

  2. PolarBear53 says:

    perhaps because maybe you need at least 2 people to descend down this side of the mountain -duh!

  3. “why did they both leave him? One could have gone for help and one stayed with him. guess common sense is in short supply”

    Because common sense (and climber’s experience) says you do not want to descend the Emmons Glacier alone and unroped, particularly at this time of year when crevasses are easily hidden.

  4. powderhog says:

    levesque… a great question hiding behind the computer screen! You have no idea.

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