SEATTLE (AP) – The second death in roughly two weeks on Mount Rainier’s Liberty Ridge has prompted some to wonder why climbers would try to tackle the steep and slippery terrain.

But expert mountaineers say what makes the route dangerous also makes it attractive.

“Part of climbing is that you do things of increasing difficulty and that’s part of the satisfaction in it,” said Ron Eng, president of The Mountaineers in Seattle. “It’s (Liberty Ridge) fairly steep terrain and that’s part of the attraction – it’s very interesting climbing.”

Rock falls and ice falls are common on the route and the weather on Rainier’s north side is often poor, said Doug Schurman, who produced the video “Train to Climb Mount Rainier.”

“It’s a lot of mountain to climb,” said Rob Plankers, an Olympia resident who has climbed Rainier nine times and reached the summit five. “You’re talking about 5,000 feet of 50-degree slope and that’s a lot to chew on.”

Jon Cahill, 40, of Auburn, Wash., died Thursday after falling 200 feet on Liberty Ridge. Peter Cooley, 39, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, died May 17 after tumbling down a steep icy slope of the ridge two days earlier and hitting his head on a rock spur.

Plankers has never attempted Liberty Ridge because of its difficulty.

“The air’s a little thin, so you get a little tired – people get tired, that’s when people make mistakes,” he said.

Because the ridge lies on the 14,410-foot peak’s north side, and most storms come in from the south, it’s difficult to sense a change in weather until it’s right on top of the climber, he said.

Mount Rainier National Park officials say roughly 11,500 people attempt to climb Rainier in a typical year.

While a precise breakdown was not available late Thursday, many climbers approach the summit via Camp Muir on the southeast flank, ascending along the Ingraham Glacier or Disappointment Cleaver routes.

Those who find themselves in trouble on Liberty Ridge can forget about an easy rescue, Eng said. Helicopters are often unable to land because of poor weather and it takes rescuers on foot a long time to navigate the technical route.

“It’s not like you’re on a trail where you can put them on a stretcher and roll them out,” Eng said.

Although he has climbed Mount Rainier seven times and reached the summit twice, Schurman has never attempted Liberty Ridge. The level of expertise required is extremely high, and those who try to climb it must have a strong background in ice climbing and know how to use the appropriate tools, he said.

“People want to come there and climb it because they think it’s a great climb, but they don’t realize how serious it is,” Schurman said.

Still, climbers aren’t likely to back away, Eng said.

“Rainier is a huge attraction for climbers – regardless of the route,” he said. “So obviously, Liberty Ridge is something you’d want to tackle.”



On the Net:

Mount Rainier National Park: http://www.nps.gov/mora/

AP-ES-06-04-04 0602EDT



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