SEATTLE — The National Park Service sent more rangers to Mount Rainier National Park to help recover the body of a colleague who fell to his death during a rescue operation, but it could be midweek before anyone can reach the site, a spokeswoman said Monday.
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.
Other rangers who reached his body 40 minutes after his fall staked the location and took careful coordinates so it can be found again.
At least 3 feet of snow has fallen since the accident Thursday, said Jacqueline Ashwell, superintendent of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle who is helping at Rainier park headquarters at Ashford.
“All of the snow over the weekend has created more dangerous avalanche conditions at the site where Nick has come to rest,” she said.
An Army helicopter at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a commercial copter at Olympia were ready to fly when conditions allow.
The mountain, boldly visible on a clear day from Seattle 85 miles to the northwest, is a major attraction. About 10,000 people a year attempt to climb it, and about half make it. Extensive glaciers and sudden weather changes make it dangerous.
Two climbers and two campers disappeared on the mountain in January and remain missing.
Three rangers from Denali National Park in Alaska replaced rangers at Camp Schurman, at 9,500 feet, who were prepared to go to the scene. Two rangers from parks in Colorado helped with normal operations at Mount Rainier. All have previous experience on Mount Rainier, Ashwell said.
Helicopters were standing by Monday to retrieve Hall’s body. But with a 60 percent chance of more snow, the probability of recovery was slim until a break in the weather expected Wednesday, Ashwell said.
“We very much look forward to being able to bring Nick back off the mountain, and we can only do that when the time and conditions are right,” Ashwell said. “Nick spent his life saving lives, and he wouldn’t want us to put anyone at risk to bring him off the mountain.”
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. She apparently did not require hospitalization.
The three people who were rescued Thursday by helicopter were identified by the park as Stuart Smith, Noelle Smith and Ross Vandyke. The three reportedly remained in fair condition Monday at Madigan Army Medical Center, spokesman Jay Ebbeson said. The hospital would not identify them or specify their injuries. The park said they were battered and may have suffered broken bones in the accident.
The four climbers were roped together and on their way down from the summit of the 14,411-foot volcano, when two women fell into the crevasse. Two men were able to stop the fall and prevented them all from falling to the bottom.
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.
The last time a climbing ranger was killed was 1995, when two rangers died after falling 1,200 feet during another rescue on Emmons glacier.
Hall’s family says donations in his name may be made to two funds:
Nick Hall Memorial Fund
PO Box 431
Patten, Maine 04765
MORA Search and Rescue Fund
55210 238th Ave. E.
Ashford, Wash., 98304
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.