Mt Rainier (RMI Guides)
Failure to anticipate conditions
Failure to turn back
February 6, 2005
Rainier guides rescued
The News Tribune
February 8th, 2005 06:44 AM
Two RMI guides were rescued from the upper slopes of Mount Rainier on Monday after a planned two-day climb of the 14,411-foot mountain turned into a six-day ordeal due to their failure to anticipate the conditions. After failing to turn around they eventually found themselves on the summit in nasty winter storm conditions.
Chris Bamer, 25, is being treated for frostbite on 18 of his fingers and toes at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center after being plucked from the mountain by an Oregon National Guard helicopter Monday morning. His partner, Rob Montague, 28, of Olympia, was not injured and hiked off the mountain with rescuers Monday afternoon.
Bamer will spend two more days at Harborview while doctors determine if any of his digits must be amputated. “In his own words, he has serious problems with 18 (fingers and toes), particularly his left hand,” said Mike Gauthier, Mount Rainier National Park’s lead climbing ranger. “But he doesn’t think he’s going to lose any of them.”
Rescuers reported that the tips of some of Bamer’s fingers and toes turned black.
The outcome could have been much worse for both men.“These guys had a full-on epic,” Gauthier said. “They are fortunate to be alive.”
Bamer and Montague are both first-year climbing guides for Ashford-based Rainier Mountaineering Inc. “They do not have the experience of our older climbers,” said Alex Van Steen, one of RMI’s most experienced guides. “But they are both great climbers.”
Gauthier said both men have “a great deal of mountain fortitude,” which is what got them in trouble before it saved their lives.
Bamer and Montague started climbing the difficult Ptarmigan Ridge route Feb. 1, planning to finish their trip in two days. Ptarmigan Ridge is a steep route on the mountain’s northwest slopes that should only be attempted by experienced climbers. It’s a harder climb than the Liberty Ridge route where four climbers died this summer, Gauthier said.
“And it’s rarely done in the winter,” Gauthier said. Fewer than 200 of the 10,000 people who climb Rainier each year attempt the summit via any route in the winter.
The climbers’ ascent was delayed by hard, icy slopes that required them to belay each other on more than 20 steep pitches.
The men told Gauthier on Monday night that they regretted not turning back when they realized the climb was going to be considerably more demanding than they expected.
When they did not return home by Friday, they were reported missing. Bamer made radio contact with the National Park Service Saturday and said they were still on route, but that he was suffering from frostbite.
They reached the summit Saturday, but were unable to descend because of whiteout conditions. They were forced to camp on the summit between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest.
They attempted to descend via the Gibraltar Ledges with radio guidance from Gauthier on Sunday morning, but bad weather limited visibility and knocked them off course. “Conditions were so bad they couldn’t see anything,” Gauthier said. “It was done by Braille, so to speak.” At one point, Montague had to leap off a small cliff. He landed and was buried up to his head in snow.
During a post-rescue helicopter flight, Gauthier found the men’s tracks and discovered they had descended Nisqually Cleaver, a much more difficult route than the Gibraltar Ledges.
The route took them into dangerous avalanche territory. “They heard avalanches around them, and avalanches covered some of their tracks,” Gauthier said.
Bamer and Montague spent Sunday trudging through chest-deep snow before encountering the rescue party of climbing ranger Stoney Richards, former rangers Chad and Lara Kellogg and RMI guides John Lucia and Paul Maier.
“There was a unique angle of stress because climbing rangers and guides all know each other to some degree,” Gauthier said. “We weren’t going after unnamed climbers.”
The climbers and rescuers spent Sunday night at Camp Muir at 10,188 feet on the southeast slope of the mountain.
NPS - Ptarmigan Ridge, Frostbite, over extended trip
Two climbers (ages 25 and 28) set out to ascend Ptarmigan Ridge on Tuesday Feb 1st. They hoped to complete the climb by Thursday, February 3rd, and definitely by Friday. By Friday night, and per instructions from her boyfriend, a girlfriend contacted Mount Rainier National Park and told them about the overdue team.
Later that same evening, however, she received a cell phone call from the party stating that they were okay. They reported some minor frostbite and stated that they were taking longer than expected. It actually took the team two more days to reach the summit, and along the way, they ran out of food and camped on the summit during an intense storm. One of the climbers had frostbite amounting to blackness in his toes and fingers and some blisters on his fingers.
During the descent, the pair became lost in the storm. They down-climbed through serious avalanche terrain, snowstorms, and whiteout by brail. They accomplished this while keeping radio communication with the National Park Service. Along the way, they experienced a small avalanche in which they lost some gear. The ordeal ended when they met with a team of rescuers late the third night. The member with the frostbite was flown from Camp Muir to the hospital the next morning. The other climber hiked down with rangers.