Washington D.C. honors Mount Rainier mission climbers

Seven years after a dramatic rescue on Mount Rainier, two state residents were honored Wednesday in Washington, D.C., for their heroics.

Climbing legend Dave Hahn received the Citizen’s Award for Bravery and Mount Rainier climbing ranger Chris Olson received the Valor Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior. Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, presented the awards.

So, what took so long?

“The simple explanation is they were never nominated until now,” said Chuck Young, Mount Rainier’s chief ranger.

The men were nominated after Phill Michael of Edmonton won the Citizen’s Award for Bravery last year for rescuing two ill-equipped climbers on the Muir Snowfield in 2007.

“Afterward, Mike Gauthier (former chief of the climbing ranger program) relayed to me some of the rescues that took place here in the past,” said Young, who has worked at the park since 2006.

After hearing the stories, Young and Gauthier nominated several people. A panel in D.C. picked Hahn and Olson for the awards.

On June 25, 2002, a climber was hurt by a falling rock on the challenging Liberty Ridge route. As a helicopter carrying Hahn and Olson approached the glacier below the ridge, it crashed.

Olson was hit by part of an engine that broke through the roof of the chopper. He was covered in oil, but he still was able to help Hahn rescue the pilot. The climbers then ascended the ridge with rangers who were already on site and rescued the climber.

“The efforts these two individuals took to complete the rescue of the critically injured climber during the 2002 climbing season was nothing short of extraordinary,” Young said in a statement.

“Even after surviving the crash of the helicopter … and helping with the rescue of the injured pilot, they continued on with their mission to successfully complete the rescue at an extremely hazardous area of the mountain,” he said.