January 28, 2021

Mainer rescued from Rainier dies

TACOMA, Wash. – A seriously injured climber who was rescued by helicopter after being stranded on Mount Rainier has died, a medical examiner’s spokeswoman said Monday night.

“We have been advised he has passed away,” said Mary deTracy, a medical investigator with the Pierce County medical examiner’s office.

She declined to identify the climber by name, but Peter Cooley, 39, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, had been rescued earlier from the mountain southeast of Tacoma.

An Oregon National Guard helicopter took advantage of a sudden break in the clouds to retrieve him Monday night. Earlier in the day, two national park rangers reached the climber and his companion by foot, but decided to put off a rescue attempt until today because of the steep terrain and snow.

Cooley was taken to Madigan Army Medical Center near Tacoma, said Dave Kuhns, a Fort Lewis Army base spokesman.

Kuhns said Monday night he could not discuss the climber’s condition until family had been notified. Madigan officials referred all calls to the Fort Lewis spokesman.

The climbers were stranded at 12,300 feet since Saturday on a 45-degree slope with steep and rocky terrain above and below them.

Cooley fell 30 feet early Saturday on Liberty Ridge – one of the most difficult routes up the 14,410-foot mountain. His climbing partner, Scott Richards, 42, also of Cape Elizabeth, was able to reach him, set up a tent and call for help on a cell phone.

Cooley had been in stable condition Monday afternoon but was exhibiting signs of a life-threatening head injury and appeared to have shoulder and leg injuries, park ranger Patti Wold said.

The rangers, specialists in mountain rescues, set out Saturday afternoon but were held up by poor visibility. A helicopter was able to drop supplies to the climbers Sunday night, including a radio, food, water, warm clothing and sleeping bags.

Richards had been keeping Cooley hydrated by dripping water into his mouth.

An Oregon National Guard helicopter also tried to reach the stranded men Monday morning but failed because of heavy cloud cover.

Both men were described as experienced climbers who had scaled Rainier before. In 2001, they tried to climb Liberty Ridge, but bad weather forced them to take an easier route.

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.

“He’s an excellent mountain climber,” said Cooley’s aunt Kristi Witker of New York. “All of us wanted him to stop mountain climbing, but he’s very skilled at it, and it’s his passion.”

Richards had climbed Mount Blanc and Mount Chamonix in the Alps.

Mount Rainier, about 60 miles southeast of Seattle in the Cascade range, is a popular destination for hikers and mountaineers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article ran in the State and Coastal editions.

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