A board of review will meet today at Mount Rainier National Park to study a series of searches this winter in hopes of improving visitor safety.
Such reviews are held after each incident at the park. This one is unusual because it will involve five incidents, Chuck Young, the park’s chief ranger, said Tuesday.
The board will be park superintendent Randy King, mountaineering district ranger Stefan Lofgren, Young, climbing rangers, commercial climbing guides, an expert in studying visitor risk-management and an interpretive ranger who works at the Longmire Museum.
Interpretive rangers issue wilderness permits and often are the only contact a visitor has with a ranger in the winter, Young said.
The group will review investigations of:
• The disappearances of snow campers Mark Vucich and Michelle Trojanowski, and climbers Sork “Eric” Yang and Seol Hee Jin.
All are missing and presumed dead after heading up the mountain in mid-January despite being warned about approaching storms. The storms were so bad it was a week before an intensive search could be mounted.
• The December search for snowshoer Brian Grobis, who died after getting lost, and the January search Yong Chun Kim, who survived two nights alone after falling while snowshoeing.
• Snowshoers Josephine Johnson and Jim Dickman, who walked out on their own after being lost for two nights at the same time as Kim.
Young expects the board to issue a report in two weeks.
“I’m sure we’ll come up with some good ideas that will help people come up here and recreate and not put themselves at high risk,” he said. “We’re not thinking we’re going to save everyone, but how can we improve what we are doing.”
Young said he wants to look at the decision-making process of visitors as well as the quality and delivery of mountain condition information.
“I expect we’ll look at how can people make better decisions with the information they have,” he said. “People were given pretty good information on what weather to expect and decided to go ahead.”
An intern ranger cautioned the campers and climbers about the approaching storms, but the four went ahead with their plans.
“How do you get people to process the information that we and other sources are able to give them?” Young asked. “Are they really understanding what that can mean for their weekend trip up to Paradise?”
The bureaucratic tradition of the National Park Service also will be reviewed, Young said.
In the past, information was available on a handout at visitor centers. Now updates are posted on park websites. Young speculated the review will look at ways of using social media to share information.
Someone has suggested the park create a YouTube video to show what conditions can be like at Paradise when the wind and snow create blizzard conditions. The discussion likely will touch on the debate over improved cellphone coverage on the mountain versus maintaining a quality park experience.
“We’ll look at how do you make it so people can access that information, not only so they read it but also understand it,” Young said.
Once the review is completed, Young said, the park will be able to use the recommendations to improve visitor safety in and around the developed areas such as Sunrise and Longmire.
“We have people getting lost and injured in front-country areas in the summer that are not far off the road and trail,” he said. “There is no definitive line out there. You don’t have to go too far off to find yourself in true wilderness.
“The bottom line is we want to find ways to help visitors who love coming to the park have a safe and enjoyable experience.”
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure