The missing and presumed dead climber on 14,411-foot Mount Rainier is believed to be 27-year-old Mark Wedeven from Olympia, Washington. Wedeven, along with ten other climbers, was buried in an avalanche high on the Ingraham Glacier on Mount Rainier. Wedeven was climbing alone and had not registered with the National Park Service for a permit.
David Wedeven, his father, told reporters yesterday, "Undoubtedly, he is the climber that is up there." While his mother Carol said, "I think he's under the ice, and I think he's gone." She added, "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." Mark Wedeven's body is still on Mount Rainier because bad weather and continued high avalanche danger makes it too difficult and risky for recovery. He is the 96th climber to die on Mount Rainier and the first climbing death since 2005. Park records indicate that there were only 0.18 fatalities per 1,000 climbers between 1998 and 2005.
Most of the climbers caught in the early Saturday morning avalanche were warned by Rainier climbing ranger Tom Payne at Camp Muir that the avalanche danger on the mountain's upper slopes were extreme. "Most of the parties decided not to climb," says Mount Rainier National Park spokesman Kevin Bacher.
After the avalanche, the buried climbers were quickly located and dug out by climbing guides from International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Inc., who were fortunately not caught in the slide. Most of the buried climbers were not wearing avalanche transceivers. Instead the guides had to use the traditional probe and poke method as well as follow ropes tied to the climber to find them. Most were buried under less than a foot of snow, but a couple climbers were already blue by the time they were pulled from the snow.
Despite the death of Mark Wedeven, the outcome of this climbing accident was better than could be expected in the extreme circumstances...it could have been much worse. There could have been 11 climbers pulled off the mountain.
Lessons learned: Don't let the promise of good weather after a prolonged spell of bad weather lure you upward; don't let the bad decisions that other climbers might be making influence your decisions; and lastly, always remember that it's okay to follow your intuition and turn around. The mountain will still be there tomorrow but you may not.
Photograph above: Mount Rainier, an active volcano, is one of America's most dangerous mountains for climbers. Photograph © Sunset Avenue Productions/Getty Images