Family of Mount Rainier ranger grieves, celebrates his life

MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. — The family of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger who died while helping rescue four climbers both grieved and celebrated his life Friday, as authorities faced the grim task of recovering the body of one of their own.

Nick Hall, 33, slid more than 3,000 feet to his death Thursday as he was helping evacuate climbers from a crevasse by helicopter near the summit of the 14,411-foot mountain.

"This is very hard for us," said Kevin Bacher of Mount Rainier National Park. "Once we knew that Nick was beyond our help, the priority switched back to the four individuals who were still alive on the mountain."

Hall, a four-year veteran of the park's climbing program, came from a family of EMTs who aided soldiers in Iraq and car crash victims in his small hometown of Patten, Maine. He was not married and had no children.

His father, Carter Hall, recalled his son as a loner when he was a child, but flourished in high school through a shared love of the wilderness.

"For good and bad, it was my influence of the outdoors," Hall told The Associated Press in a call from his Maine home, his voice breaking.

A Chinook helicopter from Joint Base Lewis-McChord removed three of the four climbers from Waco, Texas, and rangers stayed overnight with the fourth person. Poor weather complicated rescue and recovery efforts Friday, with snow falling above 10,000 feet, the level where Hall landed after the slide.

The remaining climber and four rangers started down the mountain early Friday and should be able to walk out unaided, but park officials still hoped a helicopter would be able to pick her up and also recover Hall's body, Bacher said.

Visibility remained poor Friday afternoon, but rangers were hoping for a break to allow a flight, said spokeswoman Brandi Stewart.

The Texas climbers were identified Friday as Waco attorney Stuart Smith, who summited Everest in 2002; his niece; Stacy Wren, a senior at Baylor University in Waco; and Ross Van Dyke, the assistant director of admissions at Baylor. Wren was still being taken down the mountain Friday.

They had reached the summit and were on their way down, roped together, when two women fell into the crevasse on Emmons Glacier. Two men were able to stop the group, and one called for help by cellphone.

Rangers and the helicopter responded to the site at the 13,700-foot level. A helicopter airlifted the three to Madigan Army Medical Center at the military base near Tacoma, where they were hospitalized in fair condition Friday, said spokesman Jay Ebbeson.

The climbers were bruised with possible broken bones, Bacher said.

Hall had helped put three climbers into the helicopter when he fell. The park is investigating exactly how he fell, Bacher said.

"We don't want what happened to Nick to happen again," he said. "There's no urgency today; nobody's life is at risk today. Let's take it slow and make sure nobody else is hurt."

"We're a very small team and particularly the climbing team -- basically 15 people under the climbing foreman," said Bacher, who also is a ranger. "And they work very close together and train close together and depend on each other for their lives and become very close."

Hall's family said they were proud of his involvement in mountain rescues, and hoped that his death will draw attention to the profession's dangers.

Hall's father is a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Patten, and his older brother, Aaron, served in the National Guard as an EMT in Iraq. Aaron Hall celebrated his birthday on the day his brother died on the mountain.

Nick Hall had worked as an avalanche forecaster at Yellowstone National Park and as an emergency medical responder for the ski patrol at Washington's Stevens Pass Ski Area, his father said.

When he spoke to him about risks, Carter Hall said, his son responded that dying by heart attack "was also a risk in life."

Hall was the second Mount Rainier National Park ranger to die this year. Margaret Anderson was fatally shot on New Year's Day as she tried to stop a suspect in a Seattle shooting who drove through a tire-chain checkpoint. Benjamin Colton Barnes, 24, was found dead the next day in the snow.

Rescuers are still looking for four other people -- two climbers and two campers -- who disappeared on the mountain in January. "We're keeping our eyes out for them as the snow melts out," Bacher said.

About 10,000 climbers attempt to reach the summit of the volcano about 85 miles southeast of Seattle each year and about half make it, he said.