Body of Seattle mountaineer recovered on Mount Shuksan

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 15, 2014 

Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Two North Cascades National Park rangers took off in a helicopter Thursday morning, May 15, and recovered the body of a skier killed in an avalanche on Mount Shuksan a day earlier.

John Cooper IV, 46, of Seattle died Wednesday when an avalanche swept him about 2,000 feet, Ranger Rosemary Seifried said. He was skiing with a 37-year-old Seattle man who avoided the avalanche and called for help.

The two friends had been scaling the north face of the craggy mountain — with plans to reach Summit Pyramid before skiing back down — when the snow above them came loose as they ice-axed their way along a steep, precarious slope at about the 7,000-foot level, high above Price Lake, said Kelly Bush, a North Cascades National Park ranger.

One climber crouched and, once the slide passed, found he’d narrowly missed getting hit. But afterward he couldn’t see any sign of Cooper or Cooper's locator beacon. The snow had swept him away.

Both men were skilled climbers and skiers, Bush said. They wore crampons and carried skis on their backs. They weren’t roped together when the snow slid.

Because of the unsteady snow above him, the survivor hiked down a ways in search of cell reception. He dialed 911 from a safer spot on the mountain around 10:45 a.m. He stayed on the mountain, unharmed, in touch with rescuers via radio and cell phone. He skied down in the afternoon. Ground search-and-rescue teams, with Bellingham Mountain Rescue and Whatcom County Search and Rescue, met him on his way down.

Meanwhile, two park rangers boarded a contracted rescue helicopter to search from the air. The MD 500 helicopter crew found the missing climber at 3:30 p.m. about 2,000 feet below the slide. His body couldn’t be recovered Wednesday because of the dangerous, melting snowpack and the rough terrain.

A recent heat wave likely catalyzed the snow slide, Bush said. Temperatures rose to 75 degrees along the Nooksack crest Wednesday, making it one of the warmest, most avalanche-prone days so far this year on Shuksan, a 9,130-foot massif that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Mount Baker.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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