“Due to the committing nature of the route, its remote location, and its sustained steep angle, Liberty Ridge has the reputation of being the hardest and most-dangerous regularly climbed route on Mount Rainier.”
The statement is taken directly from the National Park Service website and speaks volumes about one of the popular climbs on the majestic mountain. Simply, Liberty Ridge is tough, dangerous often unrelenting.
That proved true last week for four climbers attempting to summit Liberty Ridge, a climb that started from the White River Campground. They were plucked from a snowy surface the morning of June 6 after being stranded for three days.
A National Park Service press release noted all four were delivered to local hospitals. They were suffering from exposure to the cold but were alive. Others had not been as fortunate. Mount Rainier has been in the news multiple times in recent weeks due to incidents with climbers, the most serious resulting in two deaths due to a rockfall.
The rescued climbers were identified as Yevgeniy Krasnitskiy of Portland, Oregon, Ruslan Khasbulatov of Jersey City, New Jersey, and Vasily Aushev and Constantine Toporov, both of New York, New York. They began their ascent of Mount Rainier on May 31 and, on June 3, Mount Rainier’s Communications Center received a 911 call reporting the climbers had been stranded at 13,500 feet, near the top of the Liberty Ridge climbing route.
Efforts to rescue the four initially proved unsuccessful, with treacherous weather being the culprit. Crews attempted to retrieve the climbers using the park’s helicopter the evening of June 3 and twice the following day, but were turned back by sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. The park requested the assistance of a Chinook helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which responded with five members of the 2-135th General Support and Aviation Battalion and three pararescue jumpers from the Air Force’s 304th Rescue Squadron, but clouds and wind turned back their two rescue attempts.
Finally, at 9:15 the morning of June 6, luck went the way of the stranded climbers and rescue crews. The park’s helicopter, conducting aerial reconnaissance during a brief window of good weather, spotted the climbers in an area between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest. The helicopter was able to land, confirm the climbers’ identities, and whisk them away in two groups. All four were off the upper mountain in less than an hour.
By that afternoon, staff at Harborview Medical Center’s Emergency Department were reporting that all four were in satisfactory condition.
The climbers moved a half-mile from where they had been seen earlier, in order to be in an area that was less affected by wind and was more accessible to rescuers. According to the Park Service, the route between the two sites required expert and technical climbing and the climbers contributed greatly to their own rescue.
Dozens of people eventually had been involved in the rescue effort, including those from the National Park Service, United States Military, Forest Service and Washington state’s Search and Rescue Planning Unit.
The Liberty Ridge route is said to be one of the more technical and dangerous routes on Mount Rainier, attracting about 100 climbers each year. Both storms and rockfall have injured climbers in the past.
Summit success rates vary substantially more on this route compared to the other standard routes. Some years as many as 60 percent of the climbers succeed; in other years the success rate falls to around 30 percent.