My nephew died on Mt. Rainier. He hiked up with two other buddies and they started skiing down in tandem. Each one would ski around a clump of trees and wait as the next would ski past and down around another part of the mountain. That way, they were continuing to move down the mountain, but also keeping track of each other. They were not too far from the top. They were waiting for Mike to come around the clump of trees, but he did not. They both attached the skins to their skis and walked up the mountain to where he would have started. Part way there, they saw his ski pole in the ice, tracks of skis sliding and the second pole on the edge of a crevasse. Fearing that he may have fallen and fractured a bone, they attempted to rescue him by making a snow anchor and rappelling down 90 feet, as that was the length of rope they each carried. He was not seen. They had cell phones and a GPS phone and had called search and rescue immediately. Surprisingly he was found and they managed to pull him up from the 250 foot drop that took his life. Most people who die on Mt. Rainier are not found. We had an unusual heat wave last year that melted one third of the mountain’s snow base. Several bodies were found as the snow melted. We were lucky to have his body. There was even a viewing. I have a medical background and wanted to know exactly how he died. He was in a body bag, cinched at the neck and a cloth over half his face. I removed the cloth and was surprised to see very little bruising and only on the one side. We were then given his clothes and boots. My son-in-law washed the blood out by hanging them on a ladder over my garden. I love the idea of his blood soaking into my soil. The coat and pants were not damaged, which I found hard to believe. My best guess is that he fell straight down and ruptured his heart and liver, bleeding out and dying instantly, hence the lack of bruising. I find comfort in believing this possibility. He was always an ultimate athlete. He swam with the sharks and skied mountains that were only accessible by helicopter. He has climbed Mt. Rainier twice. This is an extremely dangerous mountain. Although, not as high as others, the glaciers are constantly changing and it is impossible to map them. Each climb can be treacherous. He climbed Mt. St. Helen’s. He went to Thailand after the Tsunami to help with the people in a village where he had lived. He was shocked to see the dead bodies floating on the surf and lying on the beach. After his death, my family made stickers that say “Be like Mike” and you can find them on our cars, water bottles and the back of some hiking signs. (Personally I amend this with “Be like Mike, almost”). We have also started a tradition to hike up Mt. Rainier to Panorama point, every year on the anniversary of his death. My first hike was actually 2 weeks before, for my 62nd birthday. I was old enough to buy a Senior Pass for all the National Parks and wanted to use it. Two weeks later, same hike. It was a beautiful day and there about 10 of us, hiking at different paces. I am slower than the 20 and 30 year olds, plus I like to stop a couple of times and paint the scene. I found myself walking down to meet some slower folks, and I was alone. It’s very steep and looking down the mountain, it almost felt as though I could fly right off. I was at the same level as Mt. St. Helens and could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood in a line, receding into the distance. As I walked and felt this incredible freedom and lightness, I felt as though I was entering the soul of Mike. He would have felt this way on his trips down this mountain. I understood the desire and incredible joy he must have felt. I also imagine that he knew he would die when he went into the crevasse and might easily have let go and enjoyed his last descent into an ice cave of beauty.
By Paul DeLong
On August 6, 2022
A beautiful piece, giving reverential homage to a life, and to adventure itself, balanced with an earthiness, where the hiking boot meets the ground. Thanks for giving us this piece.