June 9, 2010 in City

Search resumes for climber’s body

Victim of Saturday avalanche on Rainier believed dead
Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

This June 5 picture provided by Jason Thompson and Rainier Mountaineering via the News Tribune of Tacoma shows the avalanche slide path on a portion of the Ingraham Glacier called Ingraham Direct where 11 climbers were buried, killing one. Left is Gibraltar Rock, right is Disappointment Cleaver.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – Mount Rainier rangers pressed forward Tuesday with their search for a climber lost in a weekend avalanche, after dangerous conditions kept crews off the mountain for more than two days, a park spokesman said.

Park officials assumed their search would be a recovery – not rescue – as Mark Wedeven, 27, of Olympia, was believed dead, said Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher.

Wedeven’s parents told KIRO-TV they believe their son died quickly in the early morning avalanche Saturday doing what he loved. Wedeven, the father of a 5-year-old boy, had scaled Rainier numerous times, his parents said.

“He said to me, ‘Mom, if I die on a mountain, don’t worry about it,’ and I’m sure it was instant and it was over,” Carol Wedeven told the news station.

Saturday’s avalanche sent snow 1,200 feet down Mount Rainier’s Ingraham Direct Route, overtaking 11 people climbing toward the summit. All but Wedeven were pulled from the snow by fellow climbers and some guides nearby.

A search was called off Saturday afternoon because of high avalanche conditions, and no searching was done Sunday or Monday because avalanche danger was still too high. Park officials returned to the mountain Tuesday in hopes of giving Wedeven’s family closure.

Guides belonging to International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. decided against attempting Rainier’s 14,411-foot summit Saturday after hearing avalanche warnings from park officials at Camp Muir, the guide services told the News Tribune newspaper.

They had taken their parties to a place considered safe, but were close enough to the avalanche to rush in to help those buried in the snow, Bacher told the Associated Press.

The RMI group was on Ingraham flats showing clients how to check for avalanche danger when the wall of snow began to fall.

“The guides turned and told the clients to run,” Paul Maier of RMI told the News Tribune. It took the guides about 10 minutes to get in position to help, and the IMG guides were right behind them.

Those caught in the avalanche included a party of three, a party of six and two solo climbers, including Wedeven. Most of the climbers were part of rope teams, which helped rescue efforts, Bacher said.

None of the rescued climbers was buried deeper than a foot, but two were blue by the time they were rescued, Maier said.

Two people pulled from the snow were seriously injured and flown off the mountain to Madigan Army Hospital on Saturday morning. Bacher said he believes the injured climbers are doing well.

Wedeven had not been contacted by rangers about avalanche conditions because he had not stopped at Camp Muir to complete a climbing permit, Bacher said. The other solo climber also did not register or get a warning.

The number of people climbing the mountain typically increases dramatically this time of year, but it also can be a dangerous time to climb, because of lingering winter storms alternating with spring or summer weather.

This pattern increases avalanche danger and the chances climbers will get caught in a storm and become lost. Those conditions have been more exaggerated this year than in previous years, Bacher told AP.

This week is a typical example of that pattern: Today’s weather is beautiful after two feet of snow fell over the weekend.

“It looks beautiful, but the avalanche conditions are still very dangerous,” Bacher said, adding that no one was climbing Tuesday.

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