A Deadly Rescue on Mount Rainier

Survival, courage, and tragedy intertwine on Mount Rainier in this riveting episode of Out Alive. Join us as we recount a daring rescue, honor a fallen hero, and explore the thin line between triumph and disaster in the face of unimaginable odds.

Photo: Kirk Scheidt / Adobe Stock

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Out Alive is a podcast about real people who survived the unsurvivable. Check out more seasons and episodes here. This episode contains graphic content that may not be suitable for all listeners. 

In this episode of Out Alive, we share a harrowing tale of survival, resilience, and tragedy on Mount Rainier. Four climbers set out to conquer the mountain, only to face disaster on their descent when a dramatic fall results in catastrophic injuries, leaving them stranded on its icy slopes.

Their daring rescue, involving a Chinook helicopter, etched its place in the annals of Mount Rainier’s history. However, this operation carried a heartbreaking price: the loss of heroic park ranger Nick Hall.

Join us as we journey through the climbers’ perilous expedition, honor Nick Hall’s ultimate sacrifice, and underscore the risks rescue teams brave every day.

Don’t miss this episode of ‘Out Alive’ as we walk the thin line between triumph and tragedy on Mount Rainier, bringing you a compelling narrative of disaster, courage, and hope.



Host: Four years ago, I was the photo editor at Backpacker on a group pack rafting trip in wrangle St. Elias National Park in Alaska. Each night we’d make camp nested on the riverbank, surrounded by glaciers and fjords, drinking whiskey with actual glacier ice and carrying our bear spray diligently.

We’d seen six grizzlies on the very first day of the trip, and their tracks would continue to appear outside our camp each morning. I was in the wild, maybe for the first time really, and our guides having decades of experience shepherding others down those untamed rivers and mountains would regale us with stories as we set up our camp and made dinner.

Listening to them and seeing the riveted faces of my campmates made me wonder how I could replicate that experience. It gave me the idea for a podcast, this podcast, where we would get to hear survival stories from the people who really lived them. I knew nothing about podcasting or audio. I just sensed that there were so many stories that could bring us all together around the proverbial campfire.

Fast forward four years, and Out Alive has published 49 survival stories for millions of listeners. We’ve listened together with reverence to survivors share their hardest moments from aggressive grizzly bears, canyon falls, planes that crashed, and the people who lost their way. A few stories from those early years still echo in my brain sometimes.

And on this 50th episode of the show, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to one of the most harrowing, heartbreaking, and hopeful tales we’ve ever produced. This episode originally aired as a two-parter, but we’ve combined them here together to make listening easier. Also a warning that this episode does contain adult content and may not be suitable for younger listeners.

Our story starts on Mt. Rainier, the tallest mountain in Washington state. It’s the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 with 26 glaciers that make up year-round snowfields and technical terrain that’s riddled with yawning crevasses. It takes skill and endurance to reach the summit, but that’s still only halfway.

The descent can be just as perilous, and often, that’s when things can go horribly wrong. 

Stacy Liedle: So my name is Stacy Liedle. I grew up in Texas, and growing up in Texas, I didn’t have access to a lot of the outdoors, but in college I was exposed to climbing, which turned into this love of mountaineering. I think it went from being like, “Oh, I like doing things outside” to “How can I set goals and how can I basically go after really hard things?”

And for me that looked like climbing really big mountains. We started making plans to climb Mt. Rainier probably six months before we had the date set. I don’t remember what date it was. It was mid-June. And we went up Baker first, and we’re in a horrible weather window. It was a complete whiteout.

You couldn’t even see the crevasses and the wind was crazy, so the following morning when we were planning to do our summit push on Baker, we decided that that was not a safe decision, and we went down, but we knew that we had a really great weather window for Rainier.

So we were not on the standard route. We were on the other side of the mountain. It’s called the Emmans Route or the Emmans Glacier. It’s a similar level of technicality but less crowded. On the standard route there’s flags to show us where the route is. And on the route we were on, there were no flags.

So it’s a lot of, it’s really on you. I remember sitting in camp the day before our summit push and you can see the summit and just trying to visualize standing on top of the mountain, basically visualizing the goal, right? Everything was going really well. It was completely clear. Our team was meshing really well; at this point due to illness and just some different stuff going on, there were four of us who were going to make the summit push. The climb up was honestly, really glorious. I think we all knew we had trained hard for this, we were prepared for this. We were all working really well together and we were doing great on time. We reached the summit. It was beautiful up top, we had celebratory Snickers bars and took all of our photos and were really just focused on getting back to camp and having some hot soup and celebrating our win.

But what we didn’t know was like at this time, there was a front that was supposed to blow in later that night or the following day, but it ended up coming in 12 hours early. So as we were on the summit and as we were starting to make our way down, the temperature just plummeted, and the snow going up had been really nice and soft, but not too soft, just really nice snow for walking and hiking basically. But on the way down, all of that nice soft snow had frozen hard.

Peter Ramos: It had just rained recently in high elevations. 

Host: This is Peter Ramos. He also happened to be summiting Mt. Rainier that day.

Peter Ramos: You could basically say it rained on the summit of Rainier. Which is why the slope was so firm and icy. Guide services earlier that morning actually turned around because conditions were too unsafe for the guides to feel like they could protect their clients in the case of a fall.

Stacy Liedle: Going up, we had crossed the Berks trend, which is a really big casse, one of the defining features of the glacier. And there was this really narrow snow bridge that we had crossed. And because the snow was a little bit warm, we knew that that had collapsed. So we knew we had to find basically a different way to cross the Berkshire, but we were like, “No big deal. Snow’s in great condition. We’ll be fine.” But because everything froze so quickly, we suddenly found ourselves on this much steeper part of the glacier that was around a 50 degree steepness. I dunno if you’ve ever stood on a 50 degree slope of ice, but it’s a little bit disconcerting.

And below us was basically just 3,000 feet of just runout.

Host: Climbing with Stacy that day were four of her fellow Texans, and Ross Van Dyke was one of those partners.

Ross Van Dyke: So we had just summited, we were about a thousand feet below the summit. We were doing a traverse, and they don’t let you flag on the Emmans Glacier. And so we were trying to navigate around the Berkshire. I was leading the group, and as we were going along, it looked as if there was, I don’t know, a hundred yards left. And then we would’ve been safe. 

Stacy Liedle: So we had pickets that we were placing every X number of feet in order and that we were basically running our rope through so that if someone fell, it would catch our fall. Basically, making sure that we would be safe there because we knew that this was a cruxy part of the climb.

And the person in front was done with the traverse. He was on a much safer part of the glacier, and the others were coming up to that safer part. And I was in the back, so they felt comfortable with where they were. And at the same time, we had essentially run out of pickets. So they were all in the front and they weren’t in the back.

And we as a group made the decision to not place another picket. We were just like, “We’ll pull our gear. We’ll be really careful. We’re fine.”

In reality, I felt really scared because I wasn’t on the safe part of the glacier, right? It was still pretty steep. But you never wanna be the weakest link, especially when you’re the youngest one. Especially being female. You never wanna be the one who says, “I’m scared, or I feel slow, or I don’t feel capable of this.” But I didn’t say anything I just said, “Yep, that sounds good. Let’s pull the picket.” The fifth member of our team who hadn’t been with us on summit day was down at base camp and she was actually watching us through binoculars as we were descending. 

Host: Here’s Claire McDonald. 

Claire McDonald: I got hurt a couple months before the trip and I wasn’t able to train like I wanted to, so I woke up that morning and was hopeful, but I also didn’t sleep very well that night.

My stomach was real upset, so I hiked down to the little ranger station there, and they had some super high powered binoculars they were letting me play with. So I was watching everybody up on the mountain that day, and I was looking right at them when they fell.

Stacy Liedle: So we pulled the last piece of gear. I took two steps, and on the second step, I was putting my right crampon down and then it just didn’t bite. It basically just slipped. And I had an ice axe, I was trying to self arrest, but the snow is incredibly hard, incredibly icy. And within two seconds, I realized there’s no stopping my fall.

Ross Van Dyke: I remember jumping out in a self arrest pose. I barely got my axe in before we were ripped from the slope. I felt like I was pulled off of the mountain. And when we fell, I thought immediately about my wife and I said, “Hey, this is it. This is how I’m gonna die.” 

Stacy Liedle: The Berks trend that we were trying to cross this whole time was actually just below us.

We couldn’t see it, but when I fell. I remember the feeling of being airborne and knowing this is the end, this is how I die. And then I hit the other side of the crevasse, my head snapped back, and everything went black.

Claire McDonald: I think I knew right away exactly what was happening and how bad it was. They fell very quickly. When they stopped falling, that was surprising. I didn’t understand how they stopped falling.

Stacy Liedle: 20 minutes later, I woke up. I am laying on my back in the snow. I opened my eyes and slowly tried to take in what was around me, and it took a while for all of my senses to come back, but I realized I was in fact, not dead. And something was holding my harness, so I noticed that there was another person next to me, and we were tangled up in the rope and he was completely unconscious.

One of my other partners was maybe 60 feet below me, also still on the rope, but I couldn’t figure out where my third partner was. I noticed as I looked around that there were two ends of the rope that were going uphill. So I just started climbing. I didn’t have an ice axe anymore. I remember, I distinctly remember climbing and trying to follow the rope up and digging my fingernails into the ice. Just being like, “I cannot fall. You have to get up there.” I eventually get to the edge of this really narrow crevasse. I find my third partner dangling inside of it. She had slipped into this crevasse that all of the rest of us had just flown over. Her body inside the crevasse is what caught our fall and saved all of our lives. She’s yelling, but I can’t really understand anything she’s saying. And she is dangling sideways and she’s starting to thrash around so that her harness is slipping further and further down her leg.

And I’m thinking she might just fall in. This crevasse has no bottom. So if she fell out of her harness, she would just be gone. She’s also what’s keeping all of the rest of us alive. My two other partners are barely responsive and not doing well. And I’m like, “How are we gonna get out of this?”

Host: Here’s Peter Ramos again. Remember he just happened to be climbing nearby. 

Peter Ramos: So I had just summited Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier with a friend of mine, and we were exhausted and ready for a break, but I looked over toward the Emmans Glacier and I saw some bodies laying down on their back with a knee up.

I thought, “Oh, that’s an interesting way to rest. And kept looking over toward this group. And once we moved towards them, we realized it was no longer a rest.” 

Claire McDonald: I said something pretty quickly to the two rangers I was with and gave them the binoculars and they weren’t sure, but I just kept telling them, “No. They fell. They fell. They fell.” And so they wanted to wait for a while and see if they moved and, nobody moved for a while, so that’s when they started making radio calls and doing the amazing things they did that day. 

Host: On the other end of those calls was David Bulger, a U.S. Army Reserve Chinook helicopter pilot.

David Bulger: When I first got the call, I wasn’t aware of how dire the situation was with the climbers or how bad the weather was becoming. So by the time I got to the unit and started doing the planning and got the weather, I realized that it was gonna be a very challenging scenario. Of course I was nervous.

Ross Van Dyke: When I woke up, I didn’t really understand, it took me a while to orient myself. I heard somebody yelling, but in a movie when a bomb goes off and it’s silent, and then you hear a ringing, and then everything comes to, that’s how it was for me. I woke up and I was like, “Man, where, where am I?”

I looked around and I didn’t see anybody. And so, I then hear someone yelling my name, yelling my name, yelling my name. And then, I look up and I see Stacy yelling. 

Stacy Liedle: I yelled at him like, “You have to come up here. I can’t explain, but you have to come to me.” So he dragged himself up this mountain and his pelvis was completely dislocated.

Ross Van Dyke: I didn’t know exactly at the time what had happened. I thought that I had broken my femur. There was so much adrenaline going that I, at that point, I didn’t feel any pain. I proceeded to use my one good leg and the crampon that was on that leg and my ice axe and the opposite hand to climb up what may have been 75, maybe 100 feet to where Stacy was. I passed Stewart, but I thought he was dead. 

Stacy Liedle: So he gets to me and he is like, “Hey, I think we should call 911.” At that point, it’s like, what do we even say? But we were like, “We’re on the Emmens Glacier; we’ve taken a fall where we think we’re around 13,000 feet. Can you help us?” The person on the other end of the line says, “Yes, your accident has already been reported. The Air Force has been notified, and they’re on their way.”

David Bulger: So on this mission, we had the two pilots up front. The one flight engineer that was surveying outside the crew chief working the winch, and the National Park Service personnel were part of my crew. We picked them up at the base of Mount Rainier.

And then Madigan Army Hospital provided two paramedics to augment our crew. So prior to us lifting off, we just, we made sure that the crew was briefed. The other pilot and I talked about everything we had to do step by step, what would happen for each contingency. So we were well-prepared, but we just didn’t know the conditions of the climbers. We didn’t know how bad that situation really was. 

Stacy Liedle: At some point we hear these voices above us, and someone is yelling down at us asking, “Hey, are you guys okay?”

Peter Ramos: It took us about 45 minutes to get to where they were and we’re in shock as to what had just occurred. 

Stacy Liedle: So these two guys come down to us and one of the guys told me, he said like, “Hey, I’m a nurse.”

Peter Ramos: I’m an expedition nurse.

Stacy Liedle: I think he said he is an expedition nurse and can I help you? 

Peter Ramos: I am a professional mountain guide as well. Basically a glorified mountain guide with nursing knowledge.

Stacy Liedle: Once he showed up, I think I just relinquished all control. My role was just to keep everyone as calm and peaceful as possible.

Peter Ramos: At first, I was like, holy beep. There were four bodies. One of them was in a crevasse. Two of ’em were sitting on top of a snow bridge right above the lady who was in the crevasse, and one guy was probably about 25 feet down the slope laying on his back. So I ran around on this very firm slope to check on these four people that had fallen.

I asked for people to raise a hand if you can hear me. And three of them raise their hand except for the person in the crevasse. They actually ended up sustaining a big head injury and they weren’t following directions very well. She couldn’t state her name. She couldn’t state where she was, and when I asked if people remember falling off the mountain, she did not. So basically at that moment, I knew. That the person in the crevasse was more critical, and we had to get her out.

Stacy Liedle: Up till this point, my partner in the crevasse had been our anchor, essentially what was holding us all, keeping us all alive, right? Keeping us all in that part of the mountain, and then he was able to set up an anchor and around that point, some climbing rangers from the base camp that we were staying at had climbed up to us. 

Claire McDonald: The physical effort that those two rangers put in getting up there. I don’t know how they did what they did. It doesn’t, the math doesn’t make sense how quickly they were able to get from where I was to where our team was. It was just mind-blowing. 

Stacy Liedle: They set an anchor, they were able to pull my partner out of the crevasse. They were able to stabilize our whole situation. 

Peter Ramos: I turned to the rangers once they arrived and said, “This is your rescue and this is your mountain. You tell me where you need me.” And they asked for me to do medical. And so I went around and started to do more thorough assessments on each person and the critical conditions that they were all in.

One of the guys she was sitting next to, I think he had a broken leg and a broken arm and a broken back. And the guy that I was covering at that time, he had a collapsed lung and I believe two broken legs. And the lady in the crevasse, she had a dislocated hip. She had a brain bleed. And I think she also broke her back.

And soon after a Chinook helicopter arrived and started to assist with putting the critical victims into a sled and hoisted away to a hospital. 

David Bulger: Well, when we got up there, we saw the climbers just lined out along the glacier, they were all in the prone position, you could tell they were injured and the rescuers had triaged the people on the ground and set the order of how they wanted to lift it out.

The worst injured first. So the first hoist, we lowered the hoist to the personnel and lifted up the first climber with no issues whatsoever. 

Peter Ramos: Once we got the lady who was in the crevasse into the sled, the Chinook hoisted her up, and the Chinook then flew away for a little bit to cure her as we got ready to assist the next critical person off of the slopes.

The winds at this point were fierce. And a storm had moved in and the guy I was watching, he was starting to say he was feeling warm. If someone’s hypothermic, and they start to say they’re feeling warm. It means they’re at severe stage of hypothermia, and recovery needs to happen. It’s a little late.

David Bulger: The wind was getting worse. And we knew that this snow system was getting closer, faster than we initially anticipated. So we knew we were coming under a tight window, but we knew we were just gonna continue this operation and get as many people off the mountain as we could. 

Stacy Liedle: All I really remember is how windy it was and how the rotor wash was just so strong that it felt like it was burning my skin just from throwing up all the ice and it wasn’t like the normal helicopter, it was a Chinook, which has two rotors. And seeing that hovering above you is crazy. 

Ross Van Dyke: I dunno if you guys have ever been around or under a Chinook, but it’s a spaceship. It’s just unbelievably huge.  

Claire McDonald: I have a good bit of experience in watching the military guys fly those helicopters. I have an aviation degree. It was just amazing watching the skill and just the effort those guys put into. Helicopters don’t fly real good at 14,000 feet.

David Bulger: Everyone that day, my crew, the rescue climbers, the paramedics, they did a phenomenal job, went above and beyond to try and make this mission, this rescue, happen safely, but it was a bad location, very steep, and the winds were so bad that when we got the on the ground the second time, that was when the incident with Nick happened.

Host: There are three pilots on board that day. Two up front and one additional pilot to keep an eye on the cliff face, a crew chief working the winch and a flight engineer. Additionally, David’s crew picks up two paramedics from the nearby Army hospital and two more of the National Parks rescue climbers. Climbing rangers are considered elite members of the National Park Service.

They undergo extensive training and professional alpine mountaineering, aviation, technical rope rescue, avalanche forecasting, backcountry skiing, and emergency medical services. One of those climbers was Nick Hall. 

Peter Ramos: When the Chinook came back and was lowering the sled for this next person who I was hovering over him, protecting his face from the down wash, from these propellers of the helicopter.

David Bulger: The flight engineer is calling the hoist distance off the ground. He tells us and has made contact with the ground and then he tells us rescue climber has unhooked the cable. 

Peter Ramos: So as the sled was coming down, I saw Nick Hall reaching for the sled.

David Bulger: And he goes, okay, cable’s clear. I’m bringing in the cable. 

Peter Ramos: And I bent back down to cover up the victim’s face, 

David Bulger: And the next thing I hear is, “Oh God, he fell.”

Peter Ramos: I was anchored into the hillside, and then I felt something hit me and it pushed me down the slope a little bit, and I had to momentarily rely on my anchor to keep me from falling down the steep, icy slope. I looked over my shoulder, and I saw what looked like a human rocketing down the slope. I quickly looked away as I realized what had just happened, and I couldn’t quite watch the rest of it.

Stacy Liedle: It was just chaos all at once. Everyone’s yelling into their radios, you hear lots of things going on, and then it was just silence. 

David Bulger: I lift up off the ground. I do a pedal turn. As I do, I see a shape just plummet over this cliff, 20, 30 yards away from the left side of the aircraft.

Stacy Liedle: At the time, I didn’t know what had happened, and I definitely didn’t realize the gravity of it, but I remember sensing that something had not gone according to plan. I remember hearing a voice come over to the radio and saying, “Can someone go down there and check if he’s still with us?”

David Bulger: I nose the helicopter over and I started just following him down the mountain. I get to, I think 8,000 feet and I turn the helicopter back around and I start doing a zigzag pattern back up his gully looking for him. I see him at the base of this cliff and I come up over top of him. We hover over him at about a hundred feet for a minute or so, looking for any movement, any response.

And we realized we need to drop someone to ’em, but there is no location around here to drop anyone.

So I moved back down the gully by about a quarter mile, maintained that hover. One of the rescue climbers jumped off the aircraft and started making their way back up to Nick’s location.

And at that point we were extremely low on fuel, went back to our helipad, and that’s when the coordinator came up to us and told us that the climber that we had dropped off had made contact with Nick. And he passed away at the scene.

Host: Nick Hall was a veteran of the Marine Corps, a ski patroller, and an EMT before he joined the park service climbing rangers four years prior. 

Peter Ramos: That was a pretty surreal moment to realize that, that that truly was what just happened, that Nick Hall had fallen. He slipped and fell down 3,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. Everyone was at a loss at that moment in time. It was quiet. Luckily this ranger spoke up, and he said the plan now is that, those who can go down, go down. 

David Bulger: We were shocked, but we had a mission to do, and we weren’t gonna leave those other people on the mountain. So, we went back up there and continued the mission. 

Peter Ramos: There were still three injured people in the party on the mountain with two rangers, as the rest of us walked down the slope with assistance from the park service.

David Bulger: Since this whole operation had taken so long, now we were starting to look at sunset. I knew it was gonna be really tight, but I thought we could do it. 

Peter Ramos: I didn’t think they were gonna make it. As this storm was pure whiteout. And then by the time we got down, the winds calmed for sunset, the final light of the evening, the last opportunity. We heard the Chinook flying in the air again, as they’re gonna give it one final go during this sucker hole of calm weather to try and pluck off the remaining injured party.

David Bulger: The next two climbers went the way that I wish the entire mission did. Just a couple minutes for each climber and no issues whatsoever. It even seemed like the wind died down there for us for just a few minutes. It was perfect. 

Host: Ross who is in excruciating pain from his injuries, is finally loaded onto the sled.

Ross Van Dyke: So they take me up into the helicopter and I just remember when they hooked me, I had this feeling of euphoria of, “I’m gonna be okay.”

Stacy Liedle: Because I was the least injured, the helicopter was gonna bring me up last, and at this point there’s this pretty substantial storm blowing in so that there’s massive winds coming off of the ridge above us. So the helicopter is battling all of this the whole time. 

David Bulger: When you’re trying to hover over an area with very little contrast, not much to see except for sheets of white ice and snow. In high wind conditions, it’s like trying to balance on the head of a pen. The pilots have to take turns hovering because it is a taxing endeavor for you. And especially on that day, I can tell you that up to, and after that day in my career, I’ve never experienced hovering conditions that were that difficult.

Ross Van Dyke: They put me in a shelf, think of it like bunk beds, but they’re with litters. And I just remember thinking to myself like, “Don’t hit the mountain. Don’t hit the mountain. Don’t hit the mountain.” 

David Bulger: The cliff face was 20 feet away from our rotor system on the right hand side, and my pilot in the left seat was hovering the helicopter.

The sun was going down behind the ridgeline in front of us. Okay. We lowered the penetrator. It’s a seat. As soon as the penetrator touched the ground, the rescue climber hooked her in. And my pilot said, “I have lost all outside visual references. I need you to take the controls.”

And what had happened was when the sun went down below the ridgeline in front of us, all of the snow around us turned just the uniform shade of gray. So I take the controls because I can still see out my window one footprint from a climber, and that is my visual reference point. And I’m holding a hover, maintaining just that one footprint as long as I can.

And I held it for about 20 seconds, which was long enough for the rescue climber to get the climber secured into the seat.

Stacy Liedle: So they’re about to bring me up, I’m harnessed in ready to go. 

David Bulger: Well, the footprint disappears with the setting sun.

Stacy Liedle: They’re counting down. And I remember them saying “three, two,” and then just before one, the 

David Bulger: aircraft started moving left right back forward, and the rescue climber on the ground sees what the helicopter’s doing. He runs up and

Stacy Liedle: he tackles me to the ground and I feel them unclip me. I remember hearing them yell into the radio like, go, go, go. 

David Bulger: My flight engineer says climber’s clear of the cable, let’s get outta here. At that point we said, “Okay, that’s it. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Stacy Liedle: And then the helicopter just took off. It was me and a couple of climbing rangers, and I just remember them being like, “Cool. So we’re here for the night.”

David Bulger: We felt terrible because we knew she was uninjured, but we wanted to get her home. She had, for lack of a better term, a bad time up on that mountain. We wanted to get her home and get her safe.

Stacy Liedle: I’m so cold bause I had been out since 2 a.m. that morning and it’s 10 p.m. at night. I’m the coldest I’ve ever been in my life and had also thought I was gonna die earlier that day and was completely traumatized. 

David Bulger: We felt terrible, but we knew there was no other option. When we landed, I went up to the pilot I was flying with and I said, “Hey, in my,” at this point I had 10 years of flying experience, I said, “my 10 years, I think that was the most scared I’ve ever been.” And he looked at me and he goes, “I’ve been flying for 30 years, and that was the most scared I’ve ever been.”

Stacy Liedle: I spent the night watched between these two incredibly kind rangers. And we had all had this hope and expectation that the helicopter was just gonna come back the next morning to get us, and so we were all expectantly hopeful. 

David Bulger: I had the next day off, but I talked with two of the pilots the next day, and they went up there.

They climbed as high as they could. They got above the cloud layers over Mt. Rainier and they tried to find a hole in the cloud so they could circle down through, and they could not do it. And for the next, I think 10 to 12 days, it was just completely socked in up there.

Stacy Liedle: So we wake up the next morning and open the tent door and it’s a complete whiteout.

Can’t even tell which way is down, and one of them just hands me an ice axe and is like, “Cool, it’s go time.” At that point I realized like, “Okay, you thought the challenge was over, but it keeps going. You have to continue to rise to this occasion.” I didn’t know if I was capable, I guess. I didn’t know if I was capable of what I had to do.

So we started hiking down. It’s super steep. You can’t see anything. And I remember for the first part of it, we’re traversing along the crease that my partner had been dangling inside of. And all of the images of the day before I kept flashing in my mind and it was just unending.

But there was one point where, because we couldn’t see anything, we couldn’t figure out a way to get around this one pretty big crevasse, so we just kept going up and down and around and just couldn’t figure it out. I was so completely out of energy, like physical energy, emotional energy, mental willpower that I did not think that I could physically take another step.

I don’t really give up on things, and I certainly don’t give up on being alive, but my tank was completely empty in every regard, and I was willing to accept what the consequence of that would be me dying there.

I asked one of the guys that I was with, I was like, “Hey, can you just dig me a hole and just leave me here? I think I’m done.” I think that was probably the darkest moment that I’ve ever had and hopefully will ever have. And then I remember he got very close to me and was like, “This is when you find out what you’re made of. This is when you have to dig deep because this is the moment that it matters.” I stood up, I kept walking, and over the course of the day, made it all the way down to the trailhead.

There were news cameras there, which was mind-blowing and they snuck me out. I remember running through the woods, and there’s this car waiting and they pushed me inside and closed the doors. And they take me to this house further down the road, and there’s a guy sitting there and he says, “There’s someone here who I think might wanna see you.”

He opens the front door and my parents are there. My mom just drops to the ground and is sobbing, and my dad is crying, and then I’m crying. I’m just like, “How did all of this happen? How did I survive and how am I still here? How do I move forward?”

Host: Earlier that day, Ross was taken to Madigan Army base where he learned the extent of his injuries for the first time.

Ross Van Dyke: I remember being wheeled in on the gurney and I remember them telling me that you’ve suffered a dislocated hip, that you have also suffered a pulmonary embolism. So I had a blood clot on my calf and a piece of that blood clot broke off and went through my heart and splattered into my lungs and they said, “Hey, it’s probably gonna be about a year until you can walk again.” And I just remember at that moment, I didn’t care. I can still see it today and it makes me emotional every time I talk about it. An Army officer walked in and asked, “Are you Ross? Are you Ross Van Dyke?” I said, “Yes, yes sir, I am.”

And he said, “I regret to inform you that there was a ranger that was killed in your rescue.” Sorry, I just lost it. I couldn’t believe that what had happened to us caused the death of somebody else. Not to mention the fact that it wasn’t even our own party. It was an innocent person who was just trying to help us.

Claire McDonald: We went into that with, you need to be totally self-sufficient. Nobody’s gonna come help you. 

Host: This is Claire McDonald.

Claire McDonald: and then when help was needed, there were experts right there willing and capable, and their whole lives were committed to helping folks. And then for one of them to give their life in that it is just a lot to think about.

Stacy Liedle: This was so much deeper than just a really traumatic day for us. Someone literally lost their life and made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save ours. 

David Bulger: I was pretty numb about the events of the that mission, and told my drive home that night. 

Host: This again is David Bulger, the helicopter pilot.

David Bulger: Around one in the morning, on the drive home, I just pulled over and just started shaking. It just all hit me. 

Stacy Liedle: I don’t think it fully hit me. I knew in my head, I knew logically what had happened, but I don’t think it hit me emotionally for a few days. And I think watching the memorial service and just seeing all of the people that were there and realizing this was a person who led this incredibly rich life. I don’t know. He was someone’s son. He was someone’s brother. 

Euology audio: Hi, thanks for coming out today. My name’s Aaron Hall. I’m Nick’s brother. The loss of a brother is pretty tough. He’s my only brother. He’s the only person that, I think he’s the only person on this earth that could know what I was thinking without talking, just the world’s just gonna be that much more of a lonely place without him for me. I’m gonna miss him a great deal.

David Bulger: I met with Nick’s family at his memorial. I learned a lot about him. This is a guy who dedicated his life to helping other people, and as always, my thoughts and prayers go out to Nick’s family. They suffered a great loss and he was a wonderful man and he’ll always be missed.

Euology audio: On behalf of the Mountain Rescue Association and all mountain rescue teams, thank you for allowing us to be here. This is an adaptation we call the Rescue Mountaineers Prayer. “When I am called to duty, God, wherever people fall, give me strength to save a life. Whatever be the call. Help me embrace a little child before it is too late, or save an older person from the horror of some fate. Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout. And quickly and effectively bring my neighbor out. I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me to bring my every neighbor back to their family. And when it happens on Sunday, my earthly tasks must end. Please bless with your protecting hand, my family and my friends.”

Ross Van Dyke: I’ve recovered physically. I think more than anything it would be carrying on, I don’t know how to put it into words, but essentially carrying the weight of the loss of somebody because there was a lot of friends who have said, and I don’t disagree with them, that there was a miracle that happened that day. I have a hard time wrapping the miracle of us living with the fact that somebody died in that process. That’s probably something that’s tough and that I still, to a great degree, still carry with me today.

When I originally wrote to the Hall family, I really, despite this horrible, horrible thing that happened, I wanted them to know that there was a human on the other side of it that really cared deeply. And my hope was that there would be a relationship that came with that, but it’s definitely been a slow process.

I think that it went from exchanging a letter here and there to a huge moment for me personally was when Carter had reached out and said, “You interested in going bear hunting?” And I was like, “Bear hunting, yeah.” 

Carter Hall: I could see Ross’s pain. 

Host: This is Nick’s dad, Carter Hall.

Carter Hall: When Ross came to visit Maine last September, he came to do a bear hunt. So I explained to him, I said, “Ross, it’s a little difficult getting you a successful bear hunting and you’re only gonna be here two days.” This is what he responded, “I don’t care, Carter, he came to visit you.”

Ross Van Dyke: I initially, and my intentions were that me being there would be healing for them. But in reality, I think that it was that much, but more for me. I will say that I was nervous, maybe scared/intimidated. I didn’t know that Aaron was gonna be there. And so I had not had a lot of correspondence with Aaron and the opportunity to be able to be with him was, was sincerely and utterly humbling, and one that I will never forget.

Riding in a pickup truck, just he and I on these back roads in Maine, far exceeded the euphoria that I felt standing on the top of Rainier. I would put it as one of my greatest life moments. 

Carter Hall: Ross, one way or the other, had reached out, and maybe the others haven’t. Maybe they didn’t know how they could reach out. I don’t know what everybody needs to learn and feel in this whole scenario.

Stacy Liedle: I felt so ashamed. I just couldn’t let go of the idea that I hadn’t spoken up and I was the one who fell. Even though there were a lot of things that went into us taking that fall, my lack of gracefulness was sort of the catalyst for all of this catastrophe that happened.

I didn’t know how to grapple with that feeling because that’s so heavy. But after seeking out therapy, I realized that I wasn’t guilty of anything. I didn’t do anything wrong. I slipped and I was really ashamed that I had been imperfect, because it’s not the perfect version of myself, right? Who wants to wear the imperfect version of himself on their sleeve?

We did not make all of the best decisions that day. We were not perfect people that day. And it led to a lot of really horrible things happening. But that doesn’t make us any, that doesn’t make us, and that doesn’t make me any less worthy of love. It doesn’t make me any less strong, and the thing that I constantly tell myself is like, “You’re going to be okay, and you will survive this.”

Host: This episode is in honor and memory of Nick Hall.

This episode was written and produced by me, Louisa Albanese and Zoe Gates. Editing and sound design was by Matt Coder. Thank you to Stacy Liedle, Ross Van Dyke, David Bulger, Claire McDonald, Peter Ramos, and Carter Hall for sharing your stories with us. A special thank you to the Mount Rainier National Park Climbing Rangers and Search and Rescue.

Thank you so much to listening to Out Alive. We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode. Thanks so much for listening to Out Alive. We’ll be back in two weeks with another episode.

From 2022