The Adventure Guys

The inside story on outside recreation for South Puget Sound and beyond

NOTICE: The Adventure Guys has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved The Adventure Guys.
Visit the new section.

Four people overdue on Mount Rainier; believed to be waiting out the weather

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on Jan. 17, 2012 at 9:25 am with 29 Comments »
January 18, 2012 1:15 pm

UPDATED AT 1:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY

\
A two-man search team has been battling snow, cold and wind today as they searched the route above Paradise to Panorama Point in hopes of finding four people stranded on Mount Rainier.

Travel was extremely difficult with the team sinking 2-3 feet into the snow with each step, said Patti Wold, park spokeswoman. Visibility was limited, winds were gusting up to 100 mph, and their tracks filled in behind them as they negotiated the deep snow.

Two climbers, an unnamed couple from Springfield, Ore., were expected to return to Paradise on Monday after a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route. Two campers, 37-year-old Mark Vucich of San Diego and 30-year-old Michelle Trojanowski of Atlanta, were due out from the Muir Snowfield on Sunday, Wold said.

The four are thought to be be equipped with tents, sleeping bags and other gear needed to survive, and officials believe they are hunkered down to ride out the storm.

Winds continue to blast the upper mountain Wednesday. Winds at Camp Muir were averaging 95-96 mph early in the morning, with peak gusts maxing out at 115 mph. Wind chills at Camp Muir have dipped as low as -40 degrees since the weekend. At Paradise, another 27 inches of snow had fallen in the 24 hours leading up to Wednesday morning.

Wold said there has been no word from either group as of late Wednesday morning.

The incident command team, lead by ranger Kelly Bush, is planning to send out teams as soon as conditions are favorable.

“Efforts are currently focused on organizing a team of skilled skiers and climbers who have experience in negotiating the terrain to Camp Muir in difficult travel conditions,” Wold said. “The team will be prepared to launch an extensive search once weather conditions improve.”

Plans also include an aerial search by helicopter once flight conditions are favorable. The weather forecast indicates poor conditions through the forecasted future

Even though the four are well equipped, “we are concerned that we aren’t able to get searchers out until the weather improves,” Wold said.

___

One day after finding a snowshoe hiker, who had been missing since Saturday, staffers at Mount Rainier are doing a limited search for four more people who are overdue.

Two climbers were expected to return to Paradise on Monday and two campers were due out on Sunday, said Patti Wold, spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.

The campers are a 37-year-old man from San Diego and a 30-year-old woman from Atlanta. The climbers are a couple from Springfield, Ore. No names have been released.

The campers are on the Muir snowfield, an elevation of 10,000 feet, where visibility in a whiteout is zero. Wold did not immediately know which route the climbers are on.

“Putting searchers extensively on the mountain is not expected due to the risk involved including current severe weather, white out conditions and high avalanche danger,” Wold said.

Heavy snow, winds and cold temperatures have blasted the mountain since the weekend. Another 24 inches of snow has fallen at Paradise in the last 24 hours. Temperatures at Camp Muir have ranged from -9 to -2 degrees since Saturday. With winds reaching 90 mph at times, the wind chill has been around -40 degrees.

The next storm to hit the area is predicted to bring 24–42 inches of new snow to Paradise.

All are equipped for the conditions, and officials expect they are hunkered down. Rangers are watching the weather to see if it’s safe to check on them, Wold said.

Wold says the park advises visitors of the dangers of being on the mountain in the winter, but staffers can’t stop people from climbing or camping in the winter.

“Visitors to the upper mountain are advised to stop moving, dig in and wait for better weather during severe weather and white out conditions,” Wold said.

Yong Chun Kim, 66, of Tacoma, was found Monday afternoon almost 48 hours after he fell down a ravine while leading a local hiking club on a snowshoe trip above Paradise. Kim went home Monday afternoon after being checked by medical personnel.

Leave a comment Comments → 29
  1. redcabin says:

    Why don’t they require renting electronic locators for Rainier hikers? This is getting expensive!

  2. Good idea!

  3. m9078jk3 says:

    How about them carrying battery powered locator strobe lights with them and perhaps a green laser pointer too.

  4. “Why don’t they require renting electronic locators for Rainier hikers? This is getting expensive!”

    you are aware that everyone that goes into Mt.Rainier National Park pays an entrance fee, and climbers pay an additional fee on top of that,right? People that use the park pay for the privilege..and for the emergency services they might need should something go wrong.

    Hopefully, they’re just waiting out the storm…thats what a reasonable climber would do…and I imagine the rangers and SAR personnel will just wait to search in earnest after the worst of the weather has passed.

    Also, in this case even if they had an emergency locator (who knows, maybe the do)…if they’re totally fine and just riding out the storm in the Camp Muir shelter, why would they hit the ‘emergency’ button on their satellite locator beacon? They might not need anything…other than a break in the weather.

  5. skippythedog says:

    We need a web cam at Muir.

  6. there is a webcam there…but its broken down/internally fogged over…probably won’t be running till summer.

  7. nwcolorist says:

    Climbing Rainier can be dangerous enough in the summer. These kind of unpredictable winter storms are what kill people.

    Hope they are experienced and well provisioned.

  8. bianchi,

    You are incorrect. Park entrance fees and climbing permit fees do not even remotely approach covering the cost of rescue efforts. Those costs are born mostly by the general budgets of the various federal and state agencies that perform the SAR work; the National Park Service, the Pierce County Sheriff, and the National Guard, as well as others. Paying a $20 fee does not entitle you to blindly wander off into the wilderness unprepared so that the state can spend $5mil flying blackhawk helicopters all over looking for you. And even if you don’t care about the financial cost, you should at least care about the human cost; dozens of rescue personnel become victims themselves every year while performing SAR activities that range from routine to downright heroic.

  9. I agree with the idea of satellite locators. Maybe the Forest Service could maintain them and required a nominal maintenance fee to use them if you plan to go above tree line. I’ve personally seen a white out on the Muir Snowfield (in July!) and decided to turn back. I love the mountains and don’t mind taking a few chances for my adventure. However, I try to make good choices because I hate the idea of forcing someone to come rescue me if I get in over my head.

  10. Mount Rainier webcams: http://www.nps.gov/mora/photosmultimedia/mountain-webcam.htm
    It looks rough up there right now!

  11. Ashford98304 says:

    Why would the Forest Service maintain and rent personal locator beacons for people in the National Park? PLBs are required on Mt. Hood (but that is not a park). As mentioned above, the people up there might well have PLBs and might well be doing just fine, just a little uncomfortable (or dead), and haven’t felt the need to send a distress signal.

    Thousands of truly experienced backcountry enthusiasts and many people hiring guide services spent lots of time on the mountain in all the seasons. The main problem is: how to separate the unprepared/unskilled from the skilled. Should the skilled be forced to abide by rules to protect the unskilled (lowest common denominator). In other words, should all drivers have to blow into their steering wheel.

  12. The ones up there now are described as experienced and skilled. I’m sure they checked the weather and went up anyway. They are probably just hunkered down waiting it out but the rangers aren’t sure so now they have to endanger themselves to go out looking. I only advocate PLB’s to protect the S&R folks. If the rangers knew they had a PLB but were not receiving a distress signal, then they could be more confident they are okay. Really, they cost little, they save lives; if there were readily available for all, many rescues wouldn’t have to happen (and that snowshoer that just got pulled out would have been found in half the time).

    The analogy to ignition interlocks is off point. The person going above treeline on Mount Rainier in the winter is not the lowest common denominator. That is a specific high-risk behavior. You know smart experienced climbers get in trouble up there all the time.

  13. WALKINGTALL says:

    I would be concerned about the couple from San Diego/Atlanta?

  14. What, you just hop up from Atlanta to go play in the snow?? I’m all for the saving of a human life and all, but, “Stupid is as stupid does”.
    As for the statement that fees paid to enter MRNP covers potential S and R efforts… Not even close. Forget about the financial costs of trying to find someone. What of the human loss? How many S and R personnel have been injured or killed trying to find someone that doesn’t have the sense enough to check a weather report? It’s indefensible. Find them, dead or alive, send them/families a bill. Maybe the potential financial ramifications will save a life or two. Nothing else seems to work, maybe the almighty dollar will!

  15. elmerfudpucker says:

    It is winter, the weather is predicted to get real ugly, and people have nothing better to do than go and get lost on a mountain. Go figure.

  16. youreaknowitall says:

    Papasan,
    Don’t be such a hypocrite. If you’re “all for the saving of a human life,” don’t follow it up with a “but.” That’s just another way of saying, “I didn’t really mean what I just said.”
    I happen to know one of the people up there, and sure, maybe it’s not such a great idea this time of year, but they’re up there and we’re praying for the best. Hopefully they are just waiting it out.
    I guarantee you that if it were your spouse or child, you wouldn’t be so callous. (And let me spare you an expected response of “If it were my child he wouldn’t be up there!” … yeah, like you can control everyone around you.)

  17. redneckbuck says:

    Absolute morons!

  18. thewestside says:

    I don’t know what “putrified” is but it sounds pretty bad. :)

    Hiking to Camp Muir is dangerous in white out conditions. The sky and the snow on the ground all blend together. It’s difficult to know if your hiking up or down. If you drift to the left of the snowfield you will fall into crevasses and you won’t be found till summer or ever. The best thing to do is pitch up a tent and stay put. People think Camp Muir is a day hike. It’s as dangerous as K2 or Everest. Climbers train on Rainier because it mimics the dangers of the worlds tallest peeks.

  19. ReadNLearn says:

    Good luck to them, hope they find them, however…

    This always means more taxes for those of us who can’t afford to do what others enjoy and wind up costing society more tax dollars.

  20. ” It’s as dangerous as K2 or Everest.” you can’t be serious….right? thousands safely play on Rainier every year…K2 kills 27% and Everest takes 1.6% of those who climb it…not really the same.

    as for all the callous comments about these people being morons deserving to die …for christ sake, have some decency will ya? These people likely made some error in judgement somewhere along the way that has resulted in them being stuck high on the mountain…they screwed up…it doesn’t mean their lives are not worth a damn.

    I won’t attempt to get into the debate about SAR costs and mountain climbers….those who have made up their minds cannot be convinced of the of the fact that while stranded/lost/injured climbers are often high-profile news articles, they are actually a rare occurrence and a fairly small percentage of the total dollars spend on SAR activities. If you do any research at all, you’ll find that lost kids, lost hunters, elderly people walking away and getting lost, boaters/fishermen requiring rescue all cost the local govt way more than the occasional mountain climber requiring assistance. But, like I said, those you whine about their tax dollars have already made up their mind, so whats the point trying to reason with you? I suppose you’d like anyone who crashes their car to pay for the police and ambulance response too.

    Hopefully these folks are still just riding out the rough weather have enough food/fuel to keep alive at the muir shelter till there’s a break in the weather.

  21. chelseabug says:

    Just close the darn gates at Longmire and don’t let any more people up there in these dangerous conditions!

  22. “Just close the darn gates at Longmire and don’t let any more people up there in these dangerous conditions!”

    uh, you ever bother doing any research? Jan 15th was the last day the gate was open at Longmire…the road to Paradise has been closed to the public since then.

  23. Great Comment Red Cabin. A personal GPS device isn’t that expensive anymore and it sure would save money, human effort and lives.

    I don’t know why the legislature hasn’t acted already. They should. Not doing it is a mistake.

  24. johnesherman says:

    I think this: Maybe NPS should create a short video clip, post it for Internet access viewing, and require all winter back county visitors to view this knowledge video—for example, its content could and should contain map & compass navigation, use of route markers, and use of personal GPS locator and problems operating a personal GPS distress message beacon.

    After the back country travelers acknowledge they have viewed this NPS navigation video presentation; as a result, the travelers with the NPS boundaries are good to go.

    Also NPS could then rent GPS locator beacons and sell extra batteries. Rent bundles of snow route marking wands that are returned to NPS at end of NPS outing travels.

    Also NPS should sell magnetic compasses that already have magnetic area variation easy set so navigator is less likely to make compass use mistakes.

    And, my last thought is this; it follows, NPS has no problem with verification of summit climbers for equipment, experience, and prior training before permission to climb. Therefore a mandatory simple training video for back country navigation using basic compass, map (topographic and relief shading), and use and limitations of GPS technology if carried as backup, just makes a lot of sense to me.

    John Sherman
    Founding team member TMR,
    Past Snoqualmie Summit Pro Natl Ski Patrol Sr

  25. thewestside says:

    bianchi, AKA Mr. Know it all.

    Please tell us your experiences with the mountain. It sounds like you have been there, seen it and done it. Please elaborate, I’m all ears.

    What climbing routs have you climbed? I know the Gibraltar Rock assent might be boring to you. Have you done the Sunset Amphitheater Headwall ?

    Please don’t disappear. God, I hope your not a 500 lb full of crap couch potato. :)

  26. johnesherman says:

    As Ashford98304 said using a PLB to signal help request it can also be used to send messages—for example, “we’re all right just checking in delayed due to weather.” and GPS WGS84 coordinates where the becon was located when the I am OK message was sent from ;-)

    Another neat use for Satellite Personal Locator one way communications to satellite communicator: Just checking in everything all right status messages.

    But being a GPS electronic device it relies on batteries and training for its use and appreciate its limitations before your first use. Training is required and not start your training during night, storm, white-out, or injury in the backcountry; as a result, both the backcountry travelers and all sorts of rescue assets and resources placed under unnecessary risks.

    With navigation skills and benefit of GPS related technologies today applied should improve the quality of backcountry travels, and ability to update travel plans by satellite communications text message ability sent home or another person that has the party intended travel written plans and know when to call authorities for over-due return party checkin

    But never forget to also pack a good magnetic compass and map of area. Doesn’t need batteries ;-)

  27. Ashford98304 says:

    @mike30: I think you missed the point of my ignition interlock reference. Drunk driving too is a high risk enterprise–thus the breathalyzer–but we don’t require non-drunks to use them. So, fully competent backcountry travelers should not be kept from their bc adventures because some unprepared– uninformed–reckless people get caught by extremes, the careful–informed-prepared ones shouldn’t be restricted. I think the biggest problem is separating the wheat from the chaff, or at least making the chaff think twice. I suggest that anyone traveling off roads and marked trails should be required to have a bc license. For example, take a 1/2 test on the web that asks questions, illustrates potential dangers, and provides links to resources. Pass the test–anyway you can after enough tries–and you get your license. Now you are informed and you know where to look–NWAC Mountain Weather forecast, Paradise Weather forecast, NWAC Avalanche forecast. Yes, I know people will still get in trouble, but, hey, that’s life. Sorely needed are some marked snowshoe trails and good easily read maps–I think I have rescued at least 12-15 people a year above Paradise (I skied 80 days above Paradise last winter)–all confused and misdirected by the park handout map. Now the folks on the snowfield appear to be well-informed people; they just took their chance and they will live/die with the results. The impressive Mr. Kim was ill equipped and very seriously underestimated the risks to himself and the group he was leading.

  28. the SPOT transmitter can be used for those “i’m okay” messages, but their transmit power is about 12x less than the “emergency button” only tranmitters…they also rely on a smaller network on privately owned satellites. ACR has a new model that transmits on the more powerful 406 frequency, but as with other stronger satellite locator beacons (like McMurdo and ACR models), it relies on a expensive factory-replaceable battery, so you only get a limited number of ‘okay’ messages before you have to send it back for another $150 battery. There really isn’t a perfect solution out there unless you want to carry multiple devices…though having PLBs are certainly better than not having them. The McMurdo Fastfind is a good option.. $200, size of a small cell phone, five year battery life…but the model I have at least only is good for a ‘need help’ signal, no way to just update status.
    Passing legislation to require these things has its own host of problems…such as accidental transmits and people calling for an emergency when there isn’t one (there was a well publicized case a few years back when a group of backpackers in the grand canyon signaled that they needed emergency help three separate times because the drinking water they found looked dirty.

  29. jayjayjon says:

    I was one of the two “unregistered” snowshoers who managed to climb off the mountain on Monday morning, just before they found Mr. Kim. Registering for a climb is not required unless you plan to spend an overnight on the mountain. I had been caught in the storm since Saturday and had spent two nights in snow caves battling the conditions. I am very grateful to be alive.

    Please know that I checked the weather online several times the day before and was in contact with the NPS Rangers twice to verify the safety of our climb. My boyfriend and I scaled back the climb from Camp Muir (approx. 4,500 ft above Paradise) to the Skyline Ridge (approx. 1,000 ft above Paradise) in anticipation of late afternoon weather. Unfortunately, we got caught up on the ridge trying to help out Mr. Kim’s group, and got hit earlier than expected by the weather. Fortunately, we were prepared to save our lives but only just.

    I pray that the other four climbers still on “the Mountain” have adequate equipment and supplies to also survive the elements. Nobody can fully predict the weather . . . I am sure that thousands of residents (many of whom are non-climbers) in the Puget Sound area were caught completely by surprise this week with the winter storm and have had their own difficulties to deal with at sea level! I’m sure a lot of mistakes have/will be made and taxpayers valuable dollars will go down the drain. I, for one, do not want to point a finger at anyone for ill-preparedness or poor decision-making. It is everywhere we look. To single out mountain climbers without considering the inability of many to cope with their own homes, vehicles, and neighborhoods this week, would be an unfair act.

    While sitting in snow caves for 30 hours this past weekend, I chose to focus on positive things. Ultimately, that is what saved me. Perhaps some of the writers in this column would benefit themselves by doing the same thing.

*
We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

JavaScript is required to post comments.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0