5/31/14 – A guided team attempting the Liberty Ridge route on 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier—two guides and four clients—has been missing since Wednesday, and searchers today found a debris field that suggested an avalanche had wiped out the entire team. Fawn Bauer, a National Park Service spokeswoman, was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying that rescuers “feel there is no chance of survival at this point.”
Bauer said searchers flying over the scene in a helicopter had seen tents, clothing, and other equipment in a large debris field on the Carbon Glacier, below Liberty Ridge on the north side of the mountain. The evidence suggests the entire team may have been swept more than 3,000 feet down the mountain.
Todd Burleson, founder of Alpine Ascents International, told reporters the lead guide on the ascent, Matt Hegeman, called in on Tuesday and said the team had made it to Thumb Rock, a traditional camp on the route. On Wednesday, the guide called again and said they planned to camp at ca. 12,800 feet. There was no further contact with the climbers. The team had planned to descend from Rainier by Friday.
Names of the victims have not been released publicly, but the two guides are known to have been Hegeman and Eitan Green, both working for Alpine Ascents International. Hegeman, an AMGA certified alpine guide based in Truckee, California, had climbed Rainier more than 50 times. Green, 29, began climbing and guiding in New England and now guided in Ouray, Colorado, during the winters and for Alpine Ascents during the warmer months.
Liberty Ridge, the most popular of the more difficult routes on Washington’s highest peak, is also statistically the most dangerous route on the mountain. Less than 2 percent of climbers attempt Rainier by Liberty Ridge, but over the last 30 years, through 2013, more than 35 percent of the fatalities on Rainier have involved Liberty Ridge ascents. This tragic incident may raise that percentage significantly.
The worst accident on Mt. Rainier was in 1981, when 11 climbers were killed by an avalanche on the Ingraham Glacier.
Date of accident: May 2014
Sources: Blog.seattletimes.com, Accidents in North American Mountaineering