SEATTLE — One of the climbers stranded for days near the top of Mount Rainier told reporters, “Don’t mess with Rainier.”
Climber Yevgeniy Krasnitskiy of Portland, Ore., spoke those words Thursday night as he described the harrowing conditions his group of four faced after one of them became ill and unexpected winds ripped through their camp Sunday night, causing them to lose some of their gear, The Seattle Times reported.
All four men in their 30s were rescued by helicopter Thursday morning and taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center with injuries including altitude sickness and frostbite. All were released Thursday night, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said.
The climbers called 9-1-1 Monday afternoon. But Mount Rainier National Park officials said stormy weather hampered five attempts at a helicopter rescue Monday and Tuesday and that the weather kept helicopters grounded on Wednesday.
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that a park helicopter crew could land and take Krasnitskiy, Vasily Aushev and Kostya “Constantine” Toporov of New York City; and Ruslan Khasbulatov of Jersey City, N.J., off the mountain.
The climbers set out last Friday, camping low on the dangerous and technical Liberty Ridge route the first night, but concerned about rock fall after a climber recently died at the route’s usual high camp, Krasnitskiy said.
They decided to skip the high camp, planning to spend a night near the summit, and set out Saturday at 10 p.m. — an early alpine start.
The climbers sailed through the high camp, at about 10,500 feet, but one of the climbers became sick from the altitude, which began to slow them down.
By Sunday evening, the ill climber was exhausted, and they had to make an unplanned camp on steep snow. A stiff wind, unexpected and strong, shook their camp, and the wind began to rip and break their tent. Krasnitskiy lost his pack, a sleeping bag, a shovel and some food.
“Everyone was hypothermic,” he said. “It was a cold night.”
After calling 9-1-1 Monday, they watched as high winds thwarted rangers’ attempts at a helicopter rescue. They drank tea in the morning, ate meager rations of dry food and shared a single bottle of snowmelt each day.
On Tuesday, rock and snowfall littered their tent with debris. An ice ball struck one climber’s eye while he slept. When he woke up, he asked who had hit him, Krasnitskiy said.
The ice fall buried their tent platform and pressed them closer together. It was impossible to descend. On Wednesday, they forged on with their climb. Krasnitskiy said he thought of all the people who loved him, and he knew they must be worried.
“It really hit me, there are so many people out there thinking about us and have no idea what’s going on with us. We’re here. We’re alive. It’s miserable, but we’re alive,” Krasnitskiy said. As they continued climbing, he said he just kept yelling, “We have to get there.”
On Wednesday night, Krasnitskiy said they slept in a crevasse, which blocked the wind and was surprisingly comfortable.
On Thursday morning, he said their spirits started to sink as they doubted they could continue.
“And then the helicopter arrived,” he said.
As unpleasant as parts of the climb were, Krasnitskiy, a climber for 15 years, said he’d go back.
“Every time I go up a mountain, it teaches me a lesson,” he said.