Friends and family remember climbing ranger Nick Hall
BY JEFFREY P. MAYOR
The verbal portrait painted during a memorial service Friday portrayed fallen climbing ranger Nick Hall as a man whose quiet demeanor reflected strength not weakness, a ranger whose skills and judgment were without question and whose familial bonds were woven with faith and love.
“It was special to have folks share what Nick means to them,” Aaron Hall, the ranger’s brother, said after the ceremony at Mount Rainier National Park. “To hear things like that is very powerful. We know Nick’s memory won’t disappear.”
More than 250 people gathered at the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise to honor Hall, who died June 21 while helping rescue four climbers who had fallen into a crevasse. During the rescue on the Emmons Glacier, Hall slipped and fell 2,500 feet.
Attempts to recover his body have been thwarted by bad weather and unsafe conditions on Mount Rainier.
In a ceremony that blended a military-style formality with the informal remembrances of family and friends, Hall was remembered for his passion for the outdoors, his quiet intensity and his remarkable climbing and rescue skills.
Typically the hub for summer activities at Paradise, the visitor center was transformed into a tribute to Hall for a few hours Friday. The dais was flanked by tables holding photos of Hall, as well as a felt ranger hat, plaque and guidon – all presented later to the family. A National Park Service and Mountain Rescue Association honor guard presented the colors.
Hall’s strengths, commitment to his profession and his willingness to aid those in trouble make Hill a hero, said National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, also a former Mount Rainier superintendent.
He said Hall and Margaret Anderson, a Mount Rainier law enforcement ranger shot and killed on Jan. 1, are heroes just like those men and women the Park Service honors at places such as the Flight 93 and Pearl Harbor memorials.
“The national parks are the collective memory of this country,” Jarvis said. “We make the commitment to never let America forget, never let them forget the sacrifices (Hall and Anderson) made.”
Carter Hall, the father of the 33-year-old ranger, said the past week has been an experience he had never contemplated while watching his two sons fuel their passion for the outdoors in the north woods of their native Maine.
“Nick, my son, you have done your parents and your hometown proud. Your friendships are deep, your friendships are true,” he said. “Today we are here and struggle, we have lost you too soon.”
Hall reflected so many of the characteristics needed to be a good ranger, said Chuck Young, the parks’ chief ranger. They include his joy of being outdoors and willingness to face the problem-solving challenges that come up during rescue attempts.
“His legacy will live on in the rangers that follow his footsteps,” Young said.
Erin Schwartz knew Hall for 10 years, first on the ski patrol at North Star resort at Lake Tahoe and then at Stevens Pass in the North Cascades.
“Nick was intentional,” she said. “He made certain lifestyle choices that we all did. But Nick did it with intention.
“Nick was always telling me to get over it. This, I’ll never get over it. That’s why I’ll always have my rock,” she said, holding a heart-shaped rock she likes to collect.
During the service, Aaron Hall told the story of the first time he and his brother, as young boys, climbed a mountain not far from their home in Patten, Maine.
“When we got below the peak and saw the scramble up, that was when Nick stopped being bored. It was something inherent in him to go climbing,” Aaron Hall said.
He continued, recalling living together in Colorado after Nick Hall spent six years in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It was like being kids again,” Aaron Hall said. “Once we moved to Colorado, Nick spent 10 straight years of climbing, skiing, biking. Who does that? Except these climbing rangers right here.”
Walking around the gateway community of Ashford earlier this week, Aaron Hall said he saw so many people who reflected his younger brother. They sported ragged beards, drove rusting vehicles packed with recreation gear and headed to the mountains whenever possible.
“Walking out of the general store, I said there’s nothing but a bunch of Nicks walking around here. He belonged here. They were kindred spirits.”
Afterward, as participants headed down the mountain to Longmire for a private reception, they had to be reminded that life on the mountain goes on. Crews from the Washington Trails Association and Student Conservation Association were working on trails. A visitor stood atop a rock wall to get the right angle for a photo of Christine Falls. A couple lunched at a picnic table at Narada Falls.
It was a fact Aaron Hall recognized, but admitted will not be easy to accept.
“With a heavy heart, I will be climbing mountains again. I know he’ll be with me. I will miss him, I’ll miss him deeply.”