Wednesday could provide the break in the weather that will allow Mount Rainier National Park climbing rangers to recover the body of co-worker Nick Hall.
The National Weather Service forecast for the north side of the mountain calls for mostly sunny skies, with west winds around 6 mph. Temperatures are expected to reach 34 degrees at that elevation, which could add to the danger with falling rock and ice. By Wednesday night, clouds will start to build again.
By Thursday, the forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of snow after 11 a.m.
“We’ve been waiting for favorable weather and snow conditions to get in there. It looks like we might be able to get such a window,” park superintendent Randy King said Tuesday afternoon. “We have a good location on Nick, and I’m optimistic that we’ll recover Nick, for his family’s sake and for us.”
Hall died Thursday after falling 2,500 feet down the Emmons Glacier as he took part in the effort to rescue four climbers who had fallen into a crevasse. Three of the climbers, all from Waco, Texas, remain at Madigan Army Medical Center in fair condition.
A Chinook helicopter with crew from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and an MD500 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters in Olympia are standing by, waiting for a break in the snow, wind and clouds that have shrouded the mountain since the accident.
Hall’s body came to rest at the 11,300-foot level, in a spot threatened by avalanches.
“We’re not going to be putting people in there at risk,” King said. “We’re committed to bring Nick back, and we’ll do that as long as we do can do that safely.”
A National Park Service incident command team, working with Mount Rainier staffers, will develop a plan for recovering the body if the weather allows, King said.
“It will still require a pretty good assessment of the risks before we put people in there,” he said.
While waiting on the weather, King has been conducting daily conference calls to update park employees. The purpose has been to keep employees up to date for their own knowledge, but also to share with park visitors.
The park chief also spent a good part of Monday meeting with members of Hall’s family after they arrived at the park.
King said he and other staffers have been buoyed by the show of support from the community and across the country.
“I think when something like this happens, it has a big effect on all the people who care about the parks,” he said. “Whether they knew Nick or not, this touches them deeply.”
If the recovery does take place, King said he would expect the Sunrise area to be open by the weekend. It had been scheduled to open last Saturday, but the area has been used to stage helicopters since it is the closest to the accident scene. The rest of the park remains open.