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Thursday, October 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Climber sought adventure, social justice before death

Mark Wedeven bypassed Mount Rainier rangers and high avalanche danger warnings and is presumed to have died in an avalanche.   (Associated Press)
Mark Wedeven bypassed Mount Rainier rangers and high avalanche danger warnings and is presumed to have died in an avalanche. (Associated Press)
Matt Batcheldor The Olympian

Mark Wedeven was a guy who would bike to the Olympic Mountains, climb a peak, then bike back.

A man who ventured into the swamps of the Darien Gap in Colombia – an area most travelers avoid because it’s considered one of the most lawless areas on Earth, populated by paramilitary groups and drug runners. He survived being kidnapped for more than a week.

Wedeven, who last lived in southwest Olympia, returned safely from all those things, said his mother, Carol. It was that spirit of adventure that inspired his solo climb June 4 on Mount Rainier; the 29-year-old was killed in an huge avalanche.

Mark’s family and friends remember him as a fearless outdoors-man and social activist who had many friends, yet liked to venture into the wilderness alone.

Mark’s parents adopted him from Bogota, Colombia.

Carol said she wasn’t surprised when he headed to the mountain without telling anybody. He had told her before.

“If I die on the mountain, it’s OK,” were his words, she said.

Mark didn’t register for the climb, and as a result, he apparently never was warned about the unstable conditions on the mountain.

That was his way, his mother said; he didn’t have the money for a permit, and he typically didn’t tell people where he was going.

People who climb above a certain point on Mount Rainier are required to buy a climbing pass, which costs $30.

“Of course Mark didn’t check in,” friend Rob Richards said. “It wasn’t his personality to do it.”

Eleven climbers were buried in the avalanche just above Ingraham Flats at an elevation of 11,800 feet; all but Wedeven were rescued.

Mark had no formal training to climb, Carol said. He taught himself.

His father, David, said Mark had summited Mount Rainier at least three times, with a number of approaches. He was a lifelong outdoorsman who also had hiked extensively in the Olympic Mountains.

In high school, he was an athletic student who loved to run and took Advanced Placement classes. Though his father was a mountain climber, it wasn’t until Mark moved to college at the University of Colorado-Boulder that he began climbing, David said.

After a couple of years in Boulder, he moved to South America for a year. He didn’t call home, his mother said.

One day in 2003, she got a call from the U.S. Embassy in Panama. Her son had been kidnapped.

He had befriended Robert Young Pelton, a writer working for National Geographic who had ventured into the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. They were held hostage by a paramilitary group. After days of waiting, a time in which Mark didn’t know whether he would live or die, he was freed, and CNN flew him home.

After all that, she said, she just stopped worrying about what trouble Mark was getting into.

“At that point, I just turned Mark over to God,” she said.

He would tell her afterward of some of his adventures – such as the time he was awakened by an avalanche in the Olympics and outran it, leaving it 20 feet behind him. Forgetting his sleeping bag and sleeping in a tree trunk. Or throwing turtle poachers off track in Panama by furtively covering their tracks.

“It wasn’t a way that I was thinking a person that age should be,” she said. But she said she never held him back.

“He’s enough to drive anybody crazy,” she said. “There just wasn’t anything you could do about it. It’s just Mark.”

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