SEATTLE – Deep snow and whiteout conditions on Mount Rainier thwarted efforts to reach an injured climber stranded with a companion near the summit Sunday, slowing climbing rangers and forcing a helicopter to abort a rescue attempt.
The injured man, who was showing signs of a severe head injury, and his climbing partner were stuck for a second night on a 45-degree slope with steep and rocky terrain above and below them. Temperatures dipped below zero Sunday night.
“There couldn’t be a worse place on the mountain to try to do a rescue, it’s very extreme terrain,” Lee Taylor, a spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.
Peter Cooley, 39, slipped and fell early Saturday morning on Liberty Ridge at the 12,300-foot level of the 14,410-foot mountain.
“He’s in and out of consciousness, not coherent, agitated. He’s not in good mental condition,” Taylor said. She said the injury is life-threatening and he needs to reach a hospital as soon as possible.
His climbing partner, Scott Richards, 42, set up a tent and boiled water, Taylor said. The pair, both from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, had enough supplies to get them through the night as they awaited a rescue effort expected to take several days. The stranded men were in intermittent contact with rescuers by cell phone.
Two rescue climbers started their ascent Saturday and had been expected to reach the stranded men by midafternoon. By early Sunday evening, however, they remained more than 3,000 feet in elevation below the men and were not expected to get to them until this morning, said park spokeswoman Patti Wold.
Poor weather also prevented an attempt to rescue the stranded men using a helicopter from the Oregon Air National Guard. It was sent to wait back in Yakima, east of the mountain, Wold said.
Two other rescue teams of five climbers each began heading up the mountain Sunday, Wold said.
The rescue climbers planned to figure out how to safely bring down the men once they assessed the situation, Taylor said.
Richards was described as an experienced climber who has scaled the summit before.
Also Sunday, in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, authorities scaled back the search for a man who went missing while attempting a solo climb of 16,237-foot Mount Sanford.
Jason Harper, 28, of Salt Lake City, set out May 4 on a planned five-day trek.
Two helicopters that had been used in the search sent back to their bases, and Harper’s father and brother, who had taken part in the search, were headed to Anchorage and would likely return to Utah, National Park Service spokesman Smitty Parratt said.
“Maybe we’ll never know for sure what happened,” Parratt said.
Wrangell-St. Elias, east of Anchorage and along the Canadian border, is the country’s largest national park at 13.2 million acres.