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Surviving Rainier Climber Rescued

Peter Cooley, left, and Scott Richards, right, are seen in this 2001 family photo. The two men, both from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, are stranded on Mount Rainier after Cooley was injured Saturday in a fall in Mount Rainier National Park, Wash.
AP
A helicopter evacuated a climber stranded on Mount Rainier Tuesday, the day after his severely injured companion died on a copter flight to a hospital.

Scott Richards, 42, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was reportedly in good condition, but was receiving a medical evaluation and had been taken to Mount Rainier National Park offices here, said park spokesman Kevin Bacher.

"He is flat-out exhausted. He basically hasn't slept in four days," Bacher said.

A break in the clouds enabled the Oregon National Guard Chinook helicopter to reach Richards, whose climbing partner, Peter Cooley, slipped and fell 30 feet Saturday on Liberty Ridge, one of the mountain's most difficult climbing routes.

Cooley, 39, also of Cape Elizabeth, suffered a severe head injury in the fall, 12,300 feet up the 14,410-foot peak. He was picked up by helicopter Monday evening, but died en route to Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma.

"Unfortunately, with the death of Peter, it kind of sets a little different mood than we'd like to have at this time," Ranger Michael Larson said Tuesday. "But fortunately Scott Richards was able to make it down safely and our climbing team made it down without incident. We feel good about that, at least. We feel very sad for Peter Cooley's family."

Bad weather and thick clouds repeatedly stymied the four-day rescue effort, which began when Richards called for help on his cell phone Saturday. A helicopter dropped supplies, including a radio, food, water, warm clothing and sleeping bags, to the two climbers Sunday night.

Two climbing rangers, David Gottlieb and Chris Olson, finally reached the pair at midday Monday.

They found Cooley in stable but poor condition — in and out of consciousness, incoherent and combative — with head, leg and shoulder injuries, park rangers said. Richards had kept his head wound clean and his body warm. Though Cooley wouldn't drink, Richards had dripped water into his mouth. There was little else he could do.

The rescuers initially had little hope of being able to fly Cooley off the mountain, due to the poor visibility. But a sudden clearing allowed the helicopter to pick him up late Monday.

Richards and the rangers spent the night on the mountain at Thumb Rock, elevation 10,760 feet. The three hiked down to the Carbon Glacier at 8,800 feet Tuesday morning. The helicopter reached them at 9:50 a.m. Tuesday and brought them to Kautz Creek, near the park's main entrance on the southwest side.

Cooley's death was the first on Mount Rainier since September 2002 and the 90th since records have been kept. Rescue workers took his death particularly hard, Bacher said.

"We've invested a tremendous amount of energy into this rescue effort, and yesterday was a seesaw of emotions," he said. "We were all obviously elated when the helicopter managed to get in through the clouds to get Peter off of the mountain. And when we heard that he hadn't made it, that was a real blow to everybody here."

Cooley's parents, Sam and Trig Cooley, flew west after learning of the accident and spoke briefly to reporters after the helicopter plucked their son off the mountain.

"The park service has been absolutely fantastic," Sam Cooley said. "It has been a long weekend for us."

The parents were on their way to the hospital by car when their son died.

Cooley and Richards were described as experienced climbers who had scaled Rainier before. They tried to climb Liberty Ridge in 2001, but bad weather forced them to take an easier route.

Richards has climbed Mont Blanc and Mount Chamonix in the Alps.

Cooley once worked on a search-and-rescue team on Mount McKinley in Alaska and climbed that mountain solo. This was his fourth ascent of Mount Rainier.

His aunt, Kristi Witker of New York, earlier described him as "an excellent mountain climber" but added, "in my last conversation with him, I said, 'Please give up mountain climbing. You're just getting to that point where you've been so lucky and nothing's ever happened, but luck runs out."'

Cooley is survived by his wife and three children.