PATTEN, Maine — Nick Hall’s hometown mourned the heroic climbing ranger during a memorial service that overflowed Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church on Friday.
Twenty park rangers from Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park and other forestry services — all with black bands over their badges — and a U.S. Marine honor guard helped the Hall family remember the 33-year-old Patten native, who slid 2,500 feet to his death on June 21 on Rainier after helping rescue four climbers from Waco, Texas.
More than 200 people attended the service.
“It’s a good first step in the healing process to see everyone here. It means a lot,” Hall’s brother, Aaron Hall, said during the ceremony.
The family has had a great many helping hands since the accident, but “the people we know and love is the most important outreach” the family has received, he said.
“I am not at peace with this yet. I have a lot of anger,” Hall added. “I feel like Nick has been stolen from me.”
Hall’s body was recovered from the mountain on Thursday. During the church memorial, the Marines presented the Hall family with a folded American flag and played taps while Mountaineering District Ranger Stefan Lofgren, Nick Hall’s supervisor at Mount Rainier National Park, recalled Hall’s life in Washington state.
Aaron Hall said that people who knew his brother as a boy might have missed his development. Nick Hall had been gone many years: He served as a Marine, graduated from college and had been a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier for four years when he died.
“People grow up, move on. He became a mountaineer with no apologies,” Hall said. “You guys here knew a shy boy, but he turned into a modest man who enjoyed deep friendships. … He had a few close friends and learned how to enjoy people. He was no longer shy, just peaceful and modest. [Quiet] had become capable and confident.”
Lofgren said he saw much of this process himself when he hired Hall to be a climbing ranger four years ago. Lofgren had been hurt on a climb when his new hire, a former ski instructor with an apparently gruff demeanor, loaded Lofgren into a litter, started down the mountain — and got lost.
Breaking the news to Lofgren was not easy.
“You don’t want to have to tell your boss that he has to get out of the litter and help carry it,” Lofgren recalled.
“We [eventually] learned to really trust Nick and lean on his strengths,” Lofgren added, saying that at the time of his death Hall had become a high-angle rescue instructor.
Aaron Hall marveled at how Nick always had moved like a gunshot for his goals and pared his worldly possessions to a minimum to pursue what he loved — mountain climbing, hiking, skiing and visiting faraway, hard-to-reach places. Nick Hall’s life consisted of the things he loved to do and the tools he needed to do them, Aaron Hall said.
“He lived more like an Arab,” Hall said.
Nick’s father, Carter Hall, recalled the family’s recent trip to Mount Rainier National Park, which culminated with a memorial service on June 29. Nick’s friends graciously allowed the family to see rescue operations like the one in which he died. His son’s friends and co-workers did all they could to help the Halls understand Nick’s life out West.
“What we badly needed, we got,” Carter Hall said. “We got the refill we set out for.”
Carter Hall remembered how the little boy who broke his father’s heart during one his first camping trips when he said, “Here comes the long, scary night,” had matured into a man who placed himself in the most hazardous places to help others in peril.
He always had planned to visit his son in Colorado and Washington state, Carter Hall said, but the grind of work, his son’s adventurous schedule, and the tug of life in Maine made it difficult. He always believed he would have time to see his son, Carter Hall said.
“Little did I know how soon we would be out West, and why,” Hall said.