SEATTLE – The last of four Texas climbers rescued on Mount Rainier in an effort that cost a ranger his life walked down off the Washington peak Friday while blizzard conditions high on the mountain delayed efforts to retrieve the body.
The final climber, Stacy Wren, descended the mountain with Mount Rainier National Park rangers and was whisked away by car Friday evening. Three other climbers were plucked off the mountain by helicopter Thursday after the group fell and two of them ended up in a crevasse.
Eight other rangers trying to retrieve the body of climbing ranger Nick Hall, 33, from the 11,200-foot level of the 14,411-foot mountain were pinned down in a ground blizzard. They planned to spend the night at Camp Schurman at the 9,500-foot level and hope for a weather window on Saturday, park spokeswoman Fawn Bauer said.
Hall slid more than 2,600 feet to his death as he was helping evacuate the Texas climbers.
His family both grieved and celebrated his life Friday.
Hall, a four-year veteran of the park's climbing program, came from a family of EMTs who aided soldiers in Iraq and car crash victims in his small hometown of Patten, Maine. He was not married and had no children.
His father, Carter Hall, recalled his son as a loner when he was a child, but flourished in high school through a shared love of the wilderness.
"For good and bad, it was my influence of the outdoors," Hall told The Associated Press in a call from his Maine home, his voice breaking.
A Chinook helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord removed three of the four climbers and rangers stayed on the mountain Thursday night with Wren.
The climbers from Waco, Texas, had reached the summit and were on their way down, roped together, when two women fell into a crevasse on Emmons Glacier. Two men were able to stop the group, and one called for help by cellphone.
Rangers and the helicopter responded to the site at the 13,700-foot level. A helicopter airlifted the three to Madigan Army Medical Center at the military base near Tacoma, where they were hospitalized in fair condition Friday, said spokesman Jay Ebbeson.
The climbers were bruised with possible broken bones, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said earlier.
Park spokeswoman Patti Wold identified the climbers as Stuart Smith, Noelle Smith, Ross Vandyke and Wren.
Hall had helped put three climbers into the helicopter when he fell. The park is investigating exactly how he fell, Bacher said.
"We don't want what happened to Nick to happen again," he said. "There's no urgency today; nobody's life is at risk today. Let's take it slow and make sure nobody else is hurt."
"We're a very small team and particularly the climbing team – basically 15 people under the climbing foreman," said Bacher, who also is a ranger. "And they work very close together and train close together and depend on each other for their lives and become very close."
The last time a climbing ranger was killed was 1995, when two rangers died after falling 1,200 feet during a glacier rescue.
Hall's family said they were proud of his involvement in mountain rescues, and hoped that his death will draw attention to the profession's dangers.
Hall's father is a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Patten, and his older brother, Aaron, served in the National Guard as an EMT in Iraq. Aaron Hall celebrated his birthday on the day his brother died on the mountain.
Nick Hall had worked as an avalanche forecaster at Yellowstone National Park and as an emergency medical responder for the ski patrol at Washington's Stevens Pass Ski Area, his father said.
When he spoke to him about risks, Carter Hall said, his son responded that dying by heart attack "was also a risk in life."
Hall was the second Mount Rainier National Park ranger to die this year. Margaret Anderson was fatally shot on New Year's Day as she tried to stop a suspect in a Seattle shooting who drove through a tire-chain checkpoint. Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was found dead the next day in the snow.
Rescuers are still looking for four other people – two climbers and two campers – who disappeared on the mountain in January. "We're keeping our eyes out for them as the snow melts out," Bacher said.
About 10,000 climbers attempt to reach the summit of the volcano about 85 miles southeast of Seattle each year and about half make it, he said.