A St. Paul man is among a group of six people — four climbers and two guides — who were likely killed in a rockslide or avalanche on Mount Rainier in Washington.
Mark Mahaney, 26, was among the group that was due back from their climb on Friday.
The climbers were killed in a 3,300-foot fall along the steep north slope of the mountain, officials said Saturday, in the worst disaster on the mountain in more than three decades.
When they were overdue, a helicopter search found a debris field of tents, clothing and other items over Carbon Glacier on the mountain’s steep north side. The pattern of the debris suggests an avalanche or rockslide. Helicopters got low enough to pick up pings from avalanche beacons, buried in the snow, said Fawn Bauer, spokeswoman for the National Park Service.
“They [rescuers] feel there is no chance of survival at this point,” Bauer said. Air and ground searches were suspended four hours before nightfall.
Mahaney had two great passions in his life, said his uncle, Rob Mahaney: his girlfriend and climbing.
“He was following his dream,” he said of his nephew, adding Mark Mahaney’s devastated father and brother were heading to Washington.
A graduate of Prior Lake High School before making his home in St. Paul, he had climbed Mount Rainier once before, his uncle said. He was an experienced climber, had scaled Mount McKinley in Alaska and particularly loved the sport of ice climbing. His nephew reveled in the physical challenge and the emotional exhilaration climbing brought to his active life.
“We have to celebrate Mark. This is what he loved to do,” Rob Mahaney said. “This was his passion.”
Mount Rainier, southeast of Seattle, stands at 14,410 feet and attracts thousands of climbers trying to reach its summit every year. Nearly 11,000 people attempted to reach the summit of Mount Rainier in 2013, and in most years about half of those try reach the top, according to National Park Service statistics.
About 200 people were on the mountain about this time last year, which is considered early in the climbing season. Some of the climbs on Mount Rainier can be completed in a few hours, though most people take two or three days to reach the summit.
Bauer said climbing rangers conducted a thorough search for Mahaney’s group that included looking into crevasses.
“That is a steep face, almost like an avalanche chute,” she said of the Liberty Ridge route that the six took. The Liberty Ridge route is one of the toughest and most dangerous ways up the mountain.
Last week, the Park Service reported the Liberty Ridge route as being in good condition with soft snow on the ground during the day. Snow flurries passed through the national park late Wednesday.
The climbers were last heard from Wednesday about 6 p.m., when they reported they would camp overnight at 12,800 feet elevation.
The two guides were from a respected company called Alpine Ascents. The lead guide for the missing climbers, Matt Hegeman, had climbed Rainier more than 50 times.
“Obviously this is a tragedy — it is very sad,” said Todd Burleson, the company’s founder. “We are very sad for the families and the loss of our guys. Everyone mourns this.”
Since 1897, at least 89 people have died on Mount Rainier during summit climbs, according to the Park Service. Forty-five search and rescue operations took place between October 2012 and September 2013, costing about $150,000, according to the Park Service.
The Associated Press, Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.