Treacherous late summer climbing conditions, when the snow melts and leaves nothing but glacier ice, may have caused the deaths of two more climbers on Mount Rainier over the weekend.
They were the third and fourth fatalities on the popular peak within a week. A companion was critically injured.
The three climbers fell Sunday from the 13,400-foot level of the 14,411-foot peak in the Cascade Mountains, landing in a crevasse at the 11,000-foot level, the National Park Service said.
The dead climbers were Scott Porter, 32, and Karl Ahrens, 35, both of Redmond, the Pierce County medical examiner’s office said. Autopsies were planned.
The injured companion, identified as Brian Nelson, 30, was airlifted to Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, where he was listed in critical condition Monday night. His hometown was not immediately known.
Park spokeswoman Donna Rahier said Monday the three men had been roped together and were attempting to traverse Winthrop Glacier on the north side of the mountain. Two other men in their party were roped together and made it down safely, she said.
Lydia Kapp-Ahrens, the former wife of one victim, said, “I just had a really awful feeling about this trip. I told him, I said ‘Don’t go.’ I said, ‘You don’t know how to do this.’ “
Ahrens’ brother, James, said Ahrens was a professional whitewater rafting guide and avid hiker, but not an experienced climber. He had not previously climbed Mount Rainier.
“He told me he would never be a climber,” Ahrens ex-wife said. “He said, ‘What a way to die. To fall off a cliff, or to fall off a wall, like a rock climber or something.’ And that’s how he died.”
James Ahrens said his brother and Porter were friends who had rafted together.
Ahrens left behind a 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra.
Porter was married and had two boys, ages 3 and 5. He worked as a computer analyst. Neighbor and friend Lindy Wright said it was Porter’s first Mount Rainier climb as well, but he and his climbing partners were prepared.
Rahier said park officials had not yet interviewed the survivors and could only assume that the icy condition was responsible. Attempts to arrest a fall with ice axes are considered difficult on the sheer ice sheets.
“We always advise climbers of the inherent hazards of climbing on the glacier,” she said in an interview. “Warm weather had melted the snow and then we had a storm, leaving an ice coating on the mountain. It’s not unusual for late season conditions.”
The route was not closed to further climbing.
Many climbers take a less hazardous route up the south face of the mountain, Rahier said.
“The more standard route, up from Camp Muir, has snow packed down on the ice and so you don’t get that (icing),” she said. She said rangers didn’t know the experience level of the climbers.
“It’s another tragedy on a beautiful mountain that can be dangerous,” said Lance Gillispie, a communications supervisor.
Just a week earlier, two rescue workers fell to their deaths in the same area while trying to reach an injured climber. Those climbers may have slipped on the glacier, the park service has said.