PATTEN, Maine — The family of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger originally from Patten grieved and celebrated his life Friday after he died while helping rescue four climbers from the snowy Washington state mountain.
Nick Hall, 33, slid about 3,700 feet to his death Thursday as he was helping evacuate climbers from a crevasse by helicopter near the summit of the 14,411-foot mountain, according to his father, Carter Hall, and a park spokesman.
Hall said his son’s body would likely be recovered Saturday. Officials told him that weather conditions had shut down recovery efforts as of 6:15 p.m. EDT Friday. The Patten family was getting hourly telephone updates on the recovery, and condolence calls, including one from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., during the day.
Murray told Hall that all Washingtonians were grateful for his son’s sacrifice and that the Hall family would be in her prayers. Hall said he was pleased with what she could tell him of the respect others had for Nick Hall’s work.
“We are just learning how revered climbing rangers are. We hope to come out there some time to learn what his life was like so that we can hold more of our son in our hearts going forward,” Hall told Murray during their conversation.
Even more gratifying, Hall said, was word Friday that the rescued hikers wanted to express condolences to the Hall family directly.
“They are reaching out towards us and we are happy about that. It is everything that I had hoped we would realize from this rescue effort ― people that appreciate the effort rendered toward them,” Hall said. “It wasn’t just risky business to them.”
Nick Hall, a four-year veteran of the park’s climbing program, came from a family of EMTs. He served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, achieving the rank of sergeant, and worked for several rescue and EMT services before starting his duties at Mount Rainier National Park, his father said.
Carter Hall said his son was reserved but eventually flourished through a love of the outdoors and an aptitude for skiing he found while attending Katahdin High School. Nick Hall graduated in 1996, his father said.
Hall was never one to explain his motivations in great detail, his father said, except to wryly remark once that he liked climbing and EMT work because “It is better than dying of a heart attack at a desk.”
Hall was helping rescue a party of four climbers from Waco, Texas, who had already reached the summit of Mount Rainier when the accident happened. He had just accepted a safety line and litter from a Chinook helicopter that flew out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he was knocked over or slipped, his father said. Winds were heavy, gusting to about 40 mph.
Three of the four climbers were rescued Thursday and the final climber, Stacy Wren, descended the mountain with rangers Friday evening.
Poor weather complicated rescue and recovery efforts Friday, with snow falling above 10,000 feet, the level where Hall landed after the slide. Eight other rangers trying to retrieve Hall’s body 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.
The rescue began when two of the four roped-together hikers fell
into the crevasse on Emmons Glacier. Two men were able to stop the group, and one of them called for help by cellphone.
Rangers and the helicopter responded to the site at 13,700 feet. A helicopter airlifted the three to Madigan Army Medical Center at the military base near Tacoma, Wash., where they were hospitalized in fair condition Friday, said spokesman Jay Ebbeson.
All four were bruised with possible broken bones, but none of the injuries seemed life-threatening, park spokesman Kevin Bacher said.
Hall had helped put three of the climbers into the helicopter when he fell about 5 p.m. Thursday. The park is investigating exactly how he fell, Bacher said, and safety was stressed at the Friday morning briefing for rangers.
“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 Hall family is proud of Nick Hall’s work in mountain rescues, Carter Hall said, and glad to know that at least one of the rescued climbers is very experienced, having climbed seven of the world’s tallest peaks.
“We sincerely hope the loss of our son will draw appropriate attention to the hazards and safety requirements and commitment to be involved in the profession and sport he so loved,” Carter Hall said. “We know the rescued climbers were prepared and that’s what rescue is all about.”
An insurance agent, Carter Hall was a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Patten who now works for Downeast Emergency Medical Service. His older son, Aaron, served in the National Guard as an EMT in Iraq. Carter Hall also worked as an emergency responder in New Brunswick.
Aaron Hall celebrated his birthday Thursday before he heard of his brother’s death.
Nick Hall had previously 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. Hall worked an eight-day schedule at Mount Rainier during this time of year, climbing season, his father said.
Hall served in the Carolinas, California and Japan while in the Marines and later studied mountain and recreational guidance at Western
State College of Colorado. He graduated in 2006, his father said.
Having been told that Hall was “unresponsive” and couldn’t be
reached by radio, family members had held out hope Thursday night that Hall might have survived his slide, Carter Hall said.
Word of Hall’s death spread quickly through Patten. Workers
at the Patten Town Office said they heard of it Friday morning and expressed condolences.
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 man who drove through a tire-chain checkpoint at Longmire. Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was suspected in a Seattle shooting earlier that day, and his body was found 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 a January storm. “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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.