LONGMIRE, Wash. – A helicopter rescued two hikers from high on Mount Rainier Wednesday after they were caught in a freak June blizzard that caused a third hiker's death.
An Army Chinook helicopter rescued the man and woman at about 6:15 a.m. from Camp Muir, a staging area for climbers about 10,000 feet up the 14,410-foot volcano. Both were suffering from frostbite and hypothermia and taken by air to hospitals, said Kevin Bacher, a spokesman for Mount Rainier National Park.
The two and the woman's husband had been out for a day hike Monday to Camp Muir when they were caught in the storm that dumped 2 feet of snow.
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Park officials hoped to helicopter the dead man off the mountain Wednesday afternoon, if weather permitted. If not, the body could be brought down on a sled, Bacher said.
All three were experienced climbers and two had reached the top of Mount Rainier before, Bacher said. Bacher and park Ranger Sandi Kinzer declined to identify the three, saying park officials were having difficulty contacting the dead hiker's family.
Bacher said the three were in their early 30s and from Bellevue, east of Seattle. He said the woman wanted to break the news to her mother-in-law herself.
After a winter of heavy snowfall that forced repeated closure of mountain passes, unseasonably cold conditions have continued long into spring in Washington's Cascade Range.
Paradise, the jumping-off point for the trail to Camp Muir, received 2 feet of fresh snow over Monday night, with 5-foot drifts and 70 mph winds at Camp Muir, Bacher said.
"Nobody expects a blizzard in June," he said.
Rangers received a call at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday that three hikers had been trapped in the sudden blizzard on the Muir snowfield as they were descending.
The three apparently built a snow shelter at about 9,500 feet. The weather prevented an immediate rescue attempt after their call, Bacher said. The other male hiker left the married couple and battled through heavy snow to reach Camp Muir at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday and was able to direct rescuers to the other hikers near Anvil Rock, a large outcropping at the edge of the Muir snowfield.
The others were brought to a shelter at Camp Muir about an hour later, but the woman's husband was unconscious and later died, Bacher said. He suffered from hypothermia and frostbite.
The helicopter from Fort Lewis took the survivors to Madigan Hospital at the Army base near Tacoma. Madigan spokeswoman Hyliejan Pressey said the two had frostbite but were walking and talking, and would be transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for further treatment.
Bacher said day hikers are not required to check in with park officials, and these hikers didn't. But he said it's a good idea any time of year to inquire about conditions on the mountain, where weather can turn deadly quickly.
"Be prepared for worse conditions than you expect," he said. "Be prepared to spend the night out."
The death was the first reported on the mountain this year. In December, a 22-year-old Lynnwood man, Kirk Reiser, was killed when he was swept up in a snowslide while on a day hike on snowshoes.
Bacher said 48 people spent Tuesday night at Camp Muir. Some had planned to sleep there and others had to because of the weather.