Dangerous avalanche conditions, worsened by new snow overnight, have led Mount Rainier National Park officials to call off the search for the body of Mark Wedeven. The 29-year-old Olympia man has been missing since he was swept away by a large avalanche Saturday morning.
“We haven’t had a chance to do much searching on the mountain because avalanche conditions are so bad,” said park spokesman Kevin Bacher.
“Given that, and that it’s a recovery situation and not a rescue, there isn’t any sense putting people at risk,” he added.
Climbing rangers Glenn Kessler and Tom Payne spent about two hours Tuesday morning searching for Wedeven at the 11,200-feet elevation. After digging a number of test pits to gauge avalanche conditions, the two suspended the search and returned to Camp Muir.
Bacher said Wedeven’s family understood the decision.
“The rangers included them in this, they are realistic and understanding about this,” he said. “They are very savvy about how things are on the mountain.”
Wedeven grew up in Bremerton, but was living in Olympia with his girlfriend and his 5-year-old son, Obi. He had earned a degree from The Evergreen State College.
In an interview with the Kitsap Sun, Carol Wedeven, his mother said, “I go on because we both feel in our hearts the peace of the Holy Spirit, that Mark’s in heaven.”
Based on interviews with other climbers, Bacher said they believe Wedeven had reached the 12,000-foot level on the Ingraham Direct route. Unfortunately, Wedeven did not register at Camp Muir, where rangers were warning climbers about the dangerous conditions.
The avalanche began above Wedeven at 12,700 feet. Up to two yards thick and 100 to 200 yards wide, it swept down the mountain 1,500 feet hitting 10 climbers that were above Ingraham Flats at 11,800 feet.
Three climbers, buried just a foot below the snow’s surface, had to be dug out of the snow. Two of them had turned blue by the time they were pulled out.
Bacher said climbing rangers feel one of two scenarios are at play concerning Wedeven. It’s possible he is not buried very deeply under the snow like the other climbers were and melting snow will reveal the body.
“Or he is in a crevasse and we will never find him, as has been the case with others,” Bacher said.
“The judgment is it isn’t necessary to put in a tremendous amount of effort and risk on the part of our climbing rangers. Hopefully nature will take its course and we can bring this to a conclusion within the next month.”
Wedeven is presumed to be the 96th known mountaineering death.