Outdoors

‘It’s miserable, but we’re alive’: Climber recounts dramatic days stranded on Mount Rainier

They faced alpine climbing's stiffest tests.

One man suffered altitude sickness; ice and rockfall rained down at night and left another one with a shiner; cold nights in a shredded tent with just two sleeping bags for the four of them left them hypothermic.

"Don't mess with Rainier," said Yev Krasnitskiy, speaking to reporters Thursday at Harborview Medical Center.

A cascade of bad luck and poor timing recently left Krasnitskiy, of Portland, Ore., and three climbers from the East Coast stranded at high elevation on Mount Rainier for several long days.

Poise, skill and the courage to continue up the challenging Liberty Ridge route, despite illness and injury, likely saved their lives.

Still, as unpleasant as parts of the climb were, Krasnitskiy, a climber for 15 years, said he'd go back.

"Every time I go up a mountain, it teaches me a lesson," he said.

The climbers set out Friday, May 31, camping low on the route the first night, but concerned about rockfall after a climber recently died in an accident at the route's typical high camp.

They decided to skip the high camp, planning to spend a night near the summit, and set out Saturday at 10 p.m. – an early alpine start.

The climbers cruised through the high camp, at about 10,500 feet, but one of the climbers became sick from the altitude, which began to slow them down.

With the sick climber hampered while the team ascended steep ice, it began to get late. To avoid the ice, they climbed higher, off route, on snow.

By Sunday evening, the ill climber was exhausted, and they had to make an unplanned camp on steep snow.

A stiff wind, unexpected and strong, rattled their camp, and began to rip and break their tent. Krasnitskiy lost his pack, a sleeping bag, a shovel and some food.

"Everyone was hypothermic," he said. "It was a cold night."

On Monday, they called 911.

For several days, they watched as high winds thwarted rangers' attempts at a helicopter rescue. They drank tea in the morning, ate meager rations of dry food and shared a single bottle of snowmelt each day.

Then, on Tuesday, rock and snowfall littered their tent with debris. One climber took an iceball to his eye while he slept. When he woke up, he asked who had hit him.

The ice fall buried their tent platform, and squeezed them together. It was impossible to descend. On Wednesday, they decided to forge on with their climb – slowly, methodically, resting when they were weak.

Krasnitskiy thought of all the people who loved him, and he knew they must be worried.

"It really hit me, there are so many people out there thinking about us and have no idea what's going on with us. We're here. We're alive. It's miserable, but we're alive," Krasnitskiy said. As he climbed, "I just kept yelling out to my friends, 'We have to get there.' "

On Wednesday night, they slept in a crevasse near Liberty Cap, which blocked the wind and was surprisingly comfortable.

On Thursday morning, their spirits had begun to sink. They started to doubt they could continue.

"And then the helicopter arrived," he said. They were elated.

Off the mountain, he found a flurry of messages from loved ones and friends. We're alive, you don't have to worry, he'd say.

His former wife and dear friend, Tatiana Muzica, and his best friend drove up from Oregon to be with him at Harborview.

Leaving the hospital, Krasnitskiy lumbered into the parking lot gingerly, his feet still partly numb from frostbite. The sun coated the buildings gold. Muzica wrapped her arm around him, comfort against a cool breeze.

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