Perhaps nobody will be more excited to turn the page on their calendar tonight than the staff at Mount Rainier National Park.
“I would say if there was one word to describe (how the staff is feeling) it would be ‘weary,’” said park volunteer and outreach manager Kevin Bacher. “I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I can’t wait for this winter to be over.’ ”
January has been one of the most tragic months in the 113-year history of the park, but it’s also had some incredible moments. But through the ups and downs it has been consistently emotional.
On Jan. 1, park ranger Margaret Anderson was shot and killed by a man she was trying to stop after he blew through a snow tire checkpoint. The man fled into the woods and was found dead the next day, drowned in Paradise River.
The death was devastating for a park, whose staff includes Anderson’s husband, fellow law enforcement ranger Eric Anderson. Anderson is also survived by 1- and 3-year-old daughters.
The park remained closed until Jan. 7 while her colleagues mourned and a special National Park Service emergency response team was brought in to help the park open on a limited basis.
While many Rainier staff workers weren’t yet ready to return to work by the Martin Lutheran King Jr. weekend, volunteers and staffers borrowed from other parks enabled them to return to full operations for the weekend.
Early on Jan. 15, rangers helped Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol members finish up the rescue of a missing skier who gotten lost out of bounds on Jan. 14 and was found hypothermic at Crystal Lake, inside the park boundary.
By the end of the day, they’d be searching for another missing man as a long and nasty storm rolled into the park trapping seven people on Rainier.
Tacoma’s Yong Chun Kim fell on Jan. 15 and became separated from his party. After getting lost in the blizzard conditions he was found two days later, alive.
While looking for the Tacoma man rescuers stumbled across two other missing day hikers, Josephine Johnson of Lacey and Jim Dickman of Vancouver, Wash. The couple had seen Kim fall and went for help but also got disoriented in the weather and spent two nights in a snow cave.
“It was pretty special to be there (on Jan. 17) when the snowshoers were found,” said Everett Phillips, a member of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol who helped rangers locate Kim. “Those rangers have been through so much. It was nice for them to have a moment to celebrate.”
The celebration was short-lived. While talking to The News Tribune on the evening of Jan. 17, incident commander said he’d just received word of more missing people.
“We get these calls all the time,” Lofgren said hopefully, “but this could be the start of another incident.”
It was, indeed. The next morning searchers were battling the storm to find four missing people.
Mark Vucich, 37, of San Diego and Michelle Trojanowski, 30, of Atlanta planned to conclude their camping trip on the Muir snowfield on Jan. 15. Sork Yang of Springfield, Ore., and Seol Hee Jin of South Korea (both 52) planned to finish their climb Jan. 16.
For a week searchers tried to look but unrelenting weather beat them back. On Jan. 23, the skies cleared for an aerial search. No signs of the missing four were found and the search was scaled back.
February starts tomorrow. And rangers, volunteers and other workers hope that – while the memory of Anderson, her family and those who are still missing still weigh heavy on their minds – the new month will signal the park’s return to its usual peaceful disposition.