The Associated Press
Climbing rangers on iconic Mount Rainier had become comfortable working on the mountain’s slopes without being roped or anchored for safety and had become desensitized to potential hazards, according to a review released Tuesday into the death of a ranger who fell during a rescue operation last year.
As a result of the report, the National Park Service plans to review all high-risk operations, including climbing, boating and diving, in the Pacific Northwest region, Regional Director Chris Lehnertz said in a conference call with reporters.
The review also recommended that Mount Rainier establish protocols and standard operating procedures for climbing rangers to protect against falls in the future, as well as plans for search and rescue and incident command operations.
Nick Hall, 33, fell about 2,400 feet to his death on the mountain’s icy, exposed Emmons Glacier while helping to rescue four injured climbers from Waco, Texas, on June 21, 2012. Hall was a four-year climbing ranger originally from Patten, Maine.
Two of the injured climbers had fallen into a crevasse at the 13,800 foot level, on their way down from the 14,411-foot summit. Hall had traveled by helicopter to the site, but he had stepped away from his ice ax to secure a litter, which is essentially a reinforced stretcher, from the helicopter.
Hall lost his balance, fell backward down the slope and, without his ice ax, was unable to stop himself from sliding down the mountain.
Park Superintendent Randy King stressed that the accident was not Hall’s fault, but a result of many factors, including an overall desensitization to the risks on the mountain.
King said a safety and risk-management program employed by the National Park Service has been used at Mount Rainier for several years. But he said that while many of the park’s permanent staff had been trained, many of the seasonal employees who do some of the most high-risk work had not.
The park brought in all of its climbing rangers for training earlier this spring, before the climbing season kicks into high gear, to help them recognize risks that people face every day doing their job, he said.
The park also plans to contract with a helicopter company to provide short-haul services that are also used in other parks popular among climbers, including Yosemite, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain national parks. In such a rescue, a ranger would be suspended below the helicopter to assess and secure an injured party.
In the meantime, the park will be employing staff differently this summer to ensure its most experienced climbing rangers are on the mountain overseeing field staff operations, largely out of Camp Muir.
That may mean people will not be at Camp Schurman, a resting point for a less traveled route up the mountain, in the middle of the week as they have been in the past, King said.