One climber died and two others were injured on Mount Rainier after a group got caught in a rockfall on its way to the summit, according to the National Park Service.
The rocks fell Wednesday night where six climbers were camping near Thumb Rock, a point more than 10,000 feet in elevation along the Liberty Ridge route, which is known for being treacherous. Park rangers received a call around 8 p.m. reporting the rockfall and death, the first on the route since 2014, said park spokesman Kevin Bacher.
Because of the late hour, rangers had to wait until Thursday morning to respond. Even then, he said they still struggled with weather.
“It’s a location that is hazardous and treacherous to get to even in good conditions,” Bacher said. “And when the light is falling and it’s getting dark and you’re dealing with a marine layer, all those factors make it extremely dangerous to fly or even hike into a location like this.”
The first helicopter left at 9 a.m. Thursday and took the most seriously injured climber, a 37-year-old man, to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. As of Friday morning, he remained in serious condition and was receiving treatment in intensive care, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
A second injured climber was taken to Arbor Health in Morton, Lewis County, around 2:30 p.m., and the dead climber was taken to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office, which will release the person’s identity.
The three other climbers, who were not injured, were flown off the mountain shortly before 5 p.m.
The climbers were all experienced, Bacher said. They were in three groups of two and from New Jersey, Colorado, Alaska and Poland, he said. He did not have further information on their identities Thursday night.
Climbers on Liberty Ridge typically make final camp at Thumb Rock before embarking on the difficult final stretch to the summit. While it’s generally considered a safe area to camp, and this time is still within the “sweet spot” for climbing the route, Bacher said there are always hazards.
“The reality is, there is risk on this mountain,” Bacher said. “There are always things that can break loose, and no place on the mountain is 100% safe.”
Liberty Ridge is known as the “hardest and most dangerous regularly climbed route on Mount Rainier,” according to the National Park Service, which says the route is risky to all climbers, not just the inexperienced. About 98 people attempt the climb each year, with an average success rate of 53%, according to the agency’s statistics.
A small percentage of climbers at Mount Rainier take on the route, with its steep ascent and risk from avalanches, crevasses and rockfalls, but it’s known to be deadly. In 2014, two guides and four climbers died after falling more than 3,000 feet, which was the worst climbing disaster on the mountain since 1981.
Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton contributed to this report.