Search Being Scaled Back for Missing Climber in Mount Rainier National Park

Another search-and-rescue operation in the National Park System has been scaled back due to a lack of success, this time in Mount Rainier National Park where a climber went missing Thursday.

On Saturday a ground and air search continued for Eric Lewis, 57, of Duvall, Washington, who vanished Thursday when he became separated from two companions. A team of climbers searched the Nisqually Ice Fall and Gibraltar Chute areas, and a Chinook helicopter flew climbing areas it seems possible Mr. Lewis could have ended up, the park reported.

The man went missing when his climbing companions discovered that he had unclipped from the climbing rope at 14,000 feet and disappeared. The three-man team was ascending the Gibraltar Ledges route and encountered bad weather, with high wind and visibility of as little as 5 feet, said the park.

According to park officials, the climber in the lead, Don Storm, Jr., stopped and was joined by the second climber on the rope, Trevor Lane. As they waited for Mr. Lewis to join them, reeling in the rope, they discovered only a coil of rope with a knot, the park said. They had caught glimpses of Mr. Lewis on the rope just moments before, and immediately searched the slope below them. They proceeded to the summit ridge in case he had skirted around them. They then returned to Camp Muir, the climbing high camp at 10,200 feet, and reported the incident to climbing rangers.

Climbing ranger Tom Payne and two mountain guides climbed to the summit looking for Mr. Lewis late Thursday afternoon. On Friday the search expanded, with more than 40 personnel involved. Ground searchers included National Park Service climbing rangers; climbing guides from Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., Alpine Ascents International, and International Mountain Guides; and volunteers from Olympic Mountain Rescue.

Park rangers aboard a military Chinook helicopter from Fort Lewis and a commercial helicopter from Northwest Helicopters searched from the air. Searchers located the climber's backpack, climbing harness, and snow shovel at 13,600 feet, and a small snow cave at 13,800 feet. Mr. Lewis did not have a sleeping bag, tent, food, or down jacket with him.

"The search area is high-elevation glacial terrain and demands a high level of technical skill. The odds of finding the missing climber alive must be weighed against the risk to searchers operating in such hazardous conditions," said Incident Commander Glenn Kessler. "We've thoroughly searched the areas where we were likely to find Eric Lewis, and believe it's now time to scale back. Normal patrols of the mountain with a vigilant eye toward finding clues pertaining to the missing climber will continue."

On Friday a week-long search for a missing Georgia man in Joshua Tree National Park wound down. William Ewasko, 65, of Marietta, Georgia, was reported missing last Friday, June 25, and was believed to have been hiking in the Quail Mountain area of Joshua Tree.

Comments

I was on Rainier when this happened. Our team had been lower down on the mountain Monday and Tuesday conducting crevasse rescue training. Wednesday morning our team proceeded to Camp Muir and arrived in high winds in the late afternoon. From Wednesday evening until Friday morning the mountain was buffeted by high winds winds, blowing snow and whiteout conditions. Friday morning broke into glorious sunshine. No parties summited on Wednesday/Thursday and one or two parties were able to summit and return on Friday morning. Many climbing parties were forced to cram into the Climbing Hut at Camp Muir because they were very cold upon arrival at Camp Muir and the winds were too high to erect tents. Some of our climbing members had their tent next to the two surviving members of the ill fated party and you can imagine they were quite distraught--the other climbers that were close to the incident were also much affected. I went down from Camp Muir Friday morning with a party of six of our team. At about 8,500' we encountered very poor visibility and had to at all times maintain line of sight. The upper mountain however, boded sunshine and good climbing opportunities.

If you should have any questions regarding the incident or Mount Rainier in general please do not hesitate to ask.

This is a very dear friend of mine's brother, I just want you to know my prayers are with Eric and his family and friends! May God grant you peace during this difficult time. My prayers are with you Eric!! May you be found safe, as a miricle of God!

My prayers are with Eric, and all of Eric's family and friends. I met Eric approximately 17 years ago when I lived in the Seattle area, at a Mountaineer Oriented First Aid (MOFA) course. We spent several months hanging out together, going on some hikes, to a jazz festival at St. Michelle Winery, etc. He was one of the kindest, most down to earth men I have ever met. He was very grounded and very level headed. One cannot speculate on what happened on the mountain....I can only pray that if died, that he didn't suffer. And, at some level, I take comfort knowing that he was doing something he loved! He made a killer cheesecake. I still cling to the hope, that, by some great miracle of God that he is hunkered down in a snow cave somewhere, with the hope of survival.