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1 climber dead, 1 hurt in fall on Mount Baker

Navy search and rescue team members from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station rescue an injured climber from ther slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday, August 19.
Navy search and rescue team members from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station rescue an injured climber from ther slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday, August 19. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

A climber was killed and his companion was seriously hurt Saturday afternoon when they fell into a glacial crevasse near Mount Baker, officials said.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said the man who died was an active-duty member of the U.S. armed forces. Elfo didn’t release the man’s name or the branch of service because military officials were notifying the man’s relatives. The identity of the man’s injured companion also was not released.

The injured man was flown by helicopter Saturday from the 10,781-foot volcano’s eastern flank to St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham. He had suffered “significant injuries,” Elfo said.

Elfo said the pair were at the 6,000-foot level on Sholes Glacier near Coleman Pinnacle when they apparently slipped and fell.

Undersheriff Jeff Parks said the injured man suffered a critical hand wound and possibly other injuries and was flown from Bellingham to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Parks was uncertain about the men’s level of mountaineering experience and how they fell.

“They had climbing gear, packs, axes and harnesses,” Parks said. “He actually slid and fell several hundred feet, then slid into a crevasse.”

Parks said the man who died was wedged at the bottom of a 25- to 40-foot opening in the ice.

Details of the incident remained unclear Monday. An autopsy was being conducted Monday, but its results weren’t complete, said Dr. Gary Goldfogel, Whatcom County medical examiner.

Officials at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, whose rescue team saved the injured climber, had few additional details.

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Navy search and rescue team members from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station rescue an injured climber from the slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday, Aug. 19. Amanda Green Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Local search-and-rescue volunteers and members of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office search-and-rescue team helped Whatcom County Sheriff’s officials with recovering the dead climber’s body Sunday, Elfo said.

Climbers posted online about witnessing the rescue Saturday and recovery of the climber’s body Sunday.

“A day we will never forget,” wrote Amanda Green of Bellingham in a Facebook post. “Enjoying a peaceful moment on the East Portal below Baker before witnessing a search and rescue that ended in a fatality.”

Green said she and her boyfriend were climbing Saturday at Ptarmigan Ridge and the men who fell were just ahead or just behind them.

“We were actually up above where they had fallen in looking down on where the guy was still down in there while the other guy was getting help, although we couldn’t tell and had no idea anything was going on,” Green said via text message Monday.

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A Navy search and rescue team member from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is lowered to help an injured climber from the slopes of Mount Baker on Saturday, August 19. Amanda Green Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

According to the climbing group The Mountaineers, Coleman Pinnacle is a “scramble” requiring some technical rope experience. It’s accessible via the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail from Artist Point at the east end of Mount Baker Highway.

Green said the climbers who fell were well past Coleman Pinnacle in a rugged area called The Portals. Much of the ground is covered in snow and ice and dotted with deep chasms called crevasses.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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