Mount Rainier National Park rangers Thursday recovered the body of a 27-year-old Seattle man, who died while hiking through white-out conditions Wednesday.
Alex Fitzgerald, from Michigan but who lived in Seattle, spent Tuesday tent camping at Camp Muir with a hiking partner — a 19-year-old woman who was visiting from Virginia — according to a Thursday statement from the park. The pair had hiked up to Camp Muir following a trail from Paradise to Pebble Creek, then across the Muir Snowfield, the park said.
Around 8 a.m. Wednesday, they started making their way back down the mountain toward the trailhead when they became lost in high winds, heavy rain and white-out conditions at about 9,300 feet elevation, the park said.
About two hours later, the woman called 911 for help and got in touch with park rangers, who worked with her to try and figure out the pair’s location on the mountain, the statement said.
“As far as we knew at that point, they weren’t in trouble other than being cold and a little lost,” park spokesperson Kevin Bacher said.
As the two continued making their descent, however, the woman lost cell reception and Fitzgerald started becoming “increasingly disoriented,” the park said. He eventually became unresponsive and after the woman unsuccessfully tried to move him, she left to find help, according to the statement.
She found another pair of hikers as she continued down the mountain, and around 3:50 p.m., a quick-response team found and rescued her at the top of the Skyline Trail, which is at about 7,200 feet elevation.
The team found Fitzgerald about an hour later on the Muir Snowfield, where they determined he had died. Because conditions were “extremely bad” Wednesday afternoon, with heavy precipitation, 100 mph winds and almost zero visibility, Bacher said, park rangers returned to the scene Thursday to recover Fitzgerald’s body.
The trail to Camp Muir often sees weather “deteriorate rapidly and dramatically” because of its high elevation and exposed location, the statement said.
“It’s a really good reminder to be careful and plan ahead [and] to take with you the things you would need to survive if conditions change,” Bacher said. “The higher up on the mountain you go, the more often [a change in weather] could happen and the more deadly it is when it does.”