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Mt. Rainier climber dies after rescue from Liberty Ridge

Injured Climber Airlifted Off Mt. Rainier
By KOMO Staff & News Services
May 17, 2004

MOUNT RAINIER - A rescue helicopter plucked a seriously injured climber from high on the north slope of Mount Rainier on Monday evening when clouds that had socked in the mountain suddenly cleared.

The chopper, an Oregon Army National Guard Chinook that had been standing by in Yakima, about 100 miles away, winched the injured climber aboard after he was strapped to a litter.

Peter Cooley, 39, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was being transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold said.

Cooley fell 30 feet early Saturday on Liberty Ridge - one of the most difficult routes up the 14,410-foot mountain. His climbing partner, Scott Richards, 42, also of Cape Elizabeth, was able to reach him, set up a tent at an elevation of 12,300 feet, and call for help on a cell phone.

Cooley had been reported in stable condition Monday afternoon but was exhibiting signs of a life-threatening head injury and also appeared to have some sort of shoulder and leg injuries, Wold said. He was in and out of consciousness, incoherent and agitated.

Cooley's parents were at the park during the successful air rescue.

Earlier Monday, two national park rangers had reached the climber and his companion by foot but park officials said then it did not appear rescue was likely until Tuesday, due to the steep terrain.

"Really it was beyond what we could have hoped for," park spokeswoman Lee Taylor said after the rescue. "It looked like this morning the weather was going to stay bad for days and we were prepared to implement this rescue without the use of helicopters. Late today we had this great break in the weather. " ... With good fortune it was able to happen," she said.

The two climbing rangers who reached Cooley earlier Monday had him "all set up in a litter and ready to go so when the helicopter got there they could hook up the cables and lift him up into the copter," Taylor added.

The helicopter was able to get Cooley off the mountain at least two days sooner than he could have been rescued if rangers had had to carry him down, Taylor said.

Richards and the rangers were expected to spend the night on the mountain "and I'm sure they will be doing that with a great sense of relief," Taylor said.

"Then tomorrow, if the weather is good we could use helicopters to ferry them off the mountain. If not, they will climb back down, which would be an all-day endeavor."

A helicopter dropped supplies to the two climbers Sunday night. The supplies included a radio, food, water, warm clothing and sleeping bags.

The two men had been stranded on a 45-degree slope with steep and rocky terrain above and below them, Taylor told The Associated Press earlier.

"There couldn't be a worse place on the mountain to try to do a rescue; it's very extreme terrain," she said.

Cooley and Richards were described as experienced climbers who had scaled Rainier before. In 2001, they tried to climb Liberty Ridge, but bad weather forced them to take an easier route.

Cooley once worked on a search-and-rescue team on Mount McKinley in Alaska and climbed that mountain solo. This was his fourth ascent of Mount Rainier.

"He's an excellent mountain climber," said Cooley's aunt, Kristi Witker, of New York City. "But ... my last conversation with him, I said, 'Please give up mountain climbing. You're just getting to that point where you've been so lucky and nothing's ever happened, but luck runs out.'

"All of us wanted him to stop mountain climbing, but he's very skilled at it, and it's his passion."

Richards has climbed Mount Blanc and Mount Chamonix in the Alps.

"If there is anybody you'd want to be in this situation with, it would be Peter or Scott," friend Virginia Hanson of Cape Elizabeth told the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. "These are experienced climbers in peak condition and this trip wasn't taken lightly."





Read more . . .
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

Beyond Risk, Conversations with Climbers 
Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson