Alex Fitzgerald

Alex Fitzgerald

Rangers at Mount Rainier National Park, assisted by Mountain Rescue volunteers, rescued a hiker in distress yesterday afternoon on the Muir Snowfield in white-out snow conditions. Her companion, unfortunately, was found deceased, and was recovered from the mountain today.

At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, rangers were forwarded a 911 cell phone call from a woman, visiting from Virginia, who reported that she and her hiking partner, Alex Fitzgerald, 27, of Seattle and Michigan, were lost in high winds, heavy rain and white-out conditions at about 9,300 feet elevation after spending the night in a tent at Camp Muir (elevation 10,188 feet). Park rangers monitored their descent, while a quick-response team was dispatched to assist them.

At 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday, the team intercepted the surviving hiker at the top of the Skyline Trail, about 7,200 feet elevation, being assisted by two other hikers. She reported that Fitzgerald had become increasingly disoriented and, finally, unresponsive, and that after trying unsuccessfully to move him or to get a cellphone signal, she had left to find help. Fitzgerald was located at 4:42 p.m. at about 7,700 feet on the Muir Snowfield, and was determined to be deceased.

On Thursday, rangers returned to the scene, assisted by Olympic, Tacoma, Central Washington, Seattle and Everett Mountain Rescue volunteers. Fitzgerald’s body was brought back to the trailhead and turned over to the Pierce County Medical Examiner. In all, 12 National Park Service rangers and 13 Mountain Rescue volunteers have been involved in the rescue and recovery.

The route to Camp Muir follows a trail from Paradise (elevation 5,400 feet) to Pebble Creek, and then across the Muir Snowfield the rest of the way to the high camp at 10,180 feet. Its high elevation and exposed location mean that weather can deteriorate rapidly and dramatically. Hikers are encouraged to monitor weather forecasts, carry the “10 Essentials” and bring gear suitable for any conditions. All overnight travel in the park requires a backcountry permit reserved online at least a week in advance.

Contact one of the park’s Wilderness Information Centers and visit the park’s website, www.nps.gov/mora, for more information about hiking safety in Mount Rainier National Park.

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