Four climbers who were stranded on Mount Rainier since Monday have been rescued. They suffered from cold exposure, but have since been treated and released from Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
National park rangers rescued the climbers Thursday morning after the park's helicopter spotted the group in the saddle between Liberty Cap and Columbia Crest during a short window of good weather. The helicopter landed and flew them off the mountain in two groups.
The four climbers – Yevgeniy Krasnitskiy of Portland, Ore.; Ruslan Khasbulatov, of Jersey City, New Jersey; Vasily Aushev, of New York City; and Constantine Toporov, of New York City – were found about 0.5 miles from where they were last seen two days ago. The area where the climbers were found was more protected from the wind and had better rescue access, according to Mount Rainier National Park.
"The climbers contributed greatly to their own successful rescue," Mount Rainier National Park said in a statement.
Yev Krasnitskiy spoke from Harborview shortly before his release on Thursday. He described the moment the park helicopter made it to them.
"Right at the right moment where I think most of us were like, 'We can't keep going. We're going to, but probably going to lie down somewhere on the slope and that's going to be it.' Then they (the rescuers) landed. That was amazing. One of those unpredictable, amazing moments," he said.
All four were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where they were treated and released on Thursday. They suffered frostbite, but all escaped major injuries, doctors said -- though not by much.
The group began ascending Rainier on Sunday via the Liberty Ridge climbing route, which is one of the more technical and dangerous routes on the mountain.
Krasnitskiy said a member of their team was suffering mountain sickness high on the climb. They made an unplanned camp on a small outcropping Sunday evening.
Then the wind kicked up.
"We were just not expecting the wind," he said. "It was supposed to come Monday, but not Sunday night."
In the night, the teams' tent was destroyed, and Krasnitskiy lost his pack containing some of their equipment - including one of their three sleeping bags. The team was hypothermic by then, he said.
Mount Rainier's communications center got a 911 call Monday that the group was stranded at 13,500 feet near the top of the Liberty Ridge route.
The park tried to rescue the climbers Monday night and again on Tuesday, but poor weather, including 50 mph winds, kept crews from rescuing the group. Weather on Wednesday brought clouds, high wind, and blowing snow, which wasn't enough of an improvement for an aerial rescue.
The route they'd climbed was too steep to turn back, so the team continued up through the week. If rescue didn't arrive, they hoped to summit, and descend the easier route on the other side of the mountain, towards Paradise and Camp Muir.
Through this period - the team was exposed to the elements, and made do with limited food. Wednesday night, Krasnitskiy said, the team sheltered in a crevasse or snow cave to stay warm.
If Thursday's rescue wasn't successful, national park officials said they had other contingency plans in place, including a possible ground rescue operation.
"You survive because you need to survive," Krasnitskiy said. "The heroes are the ones rescuing us, because they put their lives on the line following us and our decisions to be up there. They are the heroes. We are just up there because we enjoy that lifestyle.”
Krasnitskiy said the experience re-affirmed for him a lesson he learned long ago.
"Don't mess with Rainier," he said. "Don't mess with Rainier. This is a truth I learned 14 years ago, when I first came to the mountain, and every time I've been on the mountain, it's a truth I learned."
He plans to return to Rainier - but likely not the Liberty Ridge route.
As many as 33 people were active in the rescue at any given time, according to Mount Rainier National Park.
A 45-year-old climber was killed on the same route last week during a rockfall at his group's campsite at 10,400 feet. Two other climbers were injured in the incident.