Avalanche Hits 11 Climbers on Mount Rainier, One Still Missing

One climber remained missing Sunday following a massive avalanche that hit 11 climbers on Mount Rainier on Saturday. NPS photo.

Searchers were waiting for improved weather conditions to resume the hunt for one of 11 climbers who were hit by an avalanche while trying to summit Mount Rainier in Mount Rainier National Park.

The 11 were trying to summit early Saturday morning via the Ingraham Direct route. After the slide, guides from International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering, Incorporated, were able to rescue 10 of the climbers, park officials said. A Chinook helicopter from the 214th Unit of the US Army Reserve out of Fort Lewis helped remove two injured climbers and six rescuers from the scene.

“The missing climber did not register for his climb, so we are focusing our efforts on identifying him. Until we do, we are unable to notify his family of the situation” said Mountaineering District Ranger Stefan Lofgren.

Weather conditions deteriorated Saturday and park officials feared it might not be until Monday before conditions allowed a thorough search to resume. The high avalanche danger and poor weather conditions created unsafe conditions for searching from the air and ground.

No sign of the missing climber was found during an air search of the avalanche area staged before the weather deteriorated. A Hughes 530 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters assisted in the aerial search, staying 1,500 feet above the ground due to wind conditions. A complete ground search was not possible due to high avalanche danger. Searchers were able to probe the sections of the avalanche area they could reach safely.

The avalanche began at about 12,500 feet in elevation and traveled to about 11,200 feet in elevation. It was a slab avalanche that was 100 – 200 yards wide and 1-2 meters deep.