Local Climber Recounts Chilling Mount Rainier Accident

Ross VanDyke (Courtesy photo)
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WACO (September 27, 2012)-A Central Texas man who was seriously injured in a climbing accident on Mount Rainier, has come forward to share his experience.

At 14,409 feet, Rainier is a mammoth of a mountain.

But for experienced climber, Ross VanDyke, it was supposed to be a stepping stone.

"Rainier is a prep mountain for Mount Denali or Mount McKinley in Alaska. I went for training because ultimately I wanted to go to McKinley," VanDyke said.

VanDyke and three other Central Texans set off to conquer Rainier last June. A trip up and down the mountain would take 3 days.

On the way up, VanDyke says it was a perfect climb.

"We had a spectacular day when we started. On the top you could probably see over 100 miles of visibility," VanDyke said.

"It was a beautiful day."

Yet, nothing would be able to prepare VanDyke for what would happen next.

"Shortly after the summit, we started our descent. I looked up, and all I heard was 'falling!' I then said to myself 'Ross this is how you're gonna go.' I mean, there was no way we were going to survive," VanDyke said.

A climber in VanDyke's crew had fallen.

Since all of the climbers were attached, VanDyke fell 100 feet down the mountain and was knocked unconscious.

When he came to, he had a dislocated hip and was dangling from his rope. VanDyke was the only member of his crew who had brought a cell phone on the climb.

When he called for help, the signal didn't go through.

So VanDyke climbed 40 feet up the mountain with a single ice pick to get clearer reception.

"It was like if you want to survive...if any of my friends wanted to survive, then I had to make that climb," VanDyke said.

Army Rangers climbed to VanDyke's location.

Among those Rangers was Nick Hall, who fell to his death trying to save Ross and the other climbers.

"They were coming to get me and they started lowering another litter. Nick wasn't strapped in so when he jumped to grab the litter, his body got caught in the backwash of the helicopter and he was blown off the mountain," VanDyke said.

VanDyke and 2 other climbers were immediately taken to a nearby hospital in Washington.

The last climber, Stacy Wren, had to spend the night on the mountain until she could descend the next day.

Days would pass and Ross' wounds would begin to heal. But one single regret that Ross keeps, hasn't healed to this day.

"One of the hardest things for me, is that I'll never get to meet Nick," VanDyke said.

"He saved my life."

Today VanDyke is on his way to a full recovery. He attends physical therapy and can now walk without crutches.

Memories of the accident may never leave, but there are a few things that keep VanDyke pushing forward.

"One is Nick. The other is God. For me to live, be sorrowful, and to beat myself up every day neglects the sacrifice that was made for me," VanDyke said.

"For me to push on, to get stronger, and to carry on is what I think they would want."