On Sunday, July 29, the body of a hiker was successfully recovered on Friday from the West Fork of the White River in Mount Rainier National Park. While hiking the Northern Loop Trail, the hiker was swept downstream while attempting to cross the river.
The park was notified late on Wednesday, July 25th, by a group of hikers who had observed a solo female hiker being swept down river as she attempted to cross the West Fork of the White River. After unsuccessfully attempting to locate the woman, the group hiked out to Sunrise and reported the incident. The park’s exclusive use helicopter and aviation team conducted a search that evening for the hiker, but the results were inconclusive.
A ground crew hiked into the location on Thursday July 26th, spending the night in the field. In addition aerial search support was provided by the King County Sheriff’s Office Air Support Unit Guardian One. Crews were able to confirm the location of the missing woman who was caught up in river debris including downed trees, called strainers. Strainers are one of the most dangerous features found on a river.
On Friday, August 27, the Guardian Two helicopter from the King County Sheriff’s Office transported a Swift Water Rescue Team from Pierce County to the scene. The Pierce County team assisted by park personnel was able to successfully extract the hiker’s body from the river, approximately 150 yards below the Northern Loop Trail where she had entered the water. The individual was a 22 year old Chinese national who was a university student in the U.S. Her body was taken to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office. Some 27 personnel from the park, Pierce County Swift Water Rescue Team and King County Sheriff’s Air Support Unit assisted in the search and recovery.
“River crossings can be extremely hazardous this time of the year,” said Chip Jenkins, park Superintendent. “These cold, swift flowing waters require a high level of caution, even for those hikers with extensive experience, knowledge and skills.”
Mount Rainier recommends hikers scout the area before crossing any stream; looking for log jams, waterfalls and other hazards then locating an area where you could exit the river should you fall in. Smooth bottoms and low water areas are typically the best places to cross. River levels are generally at their lowest in the early morning. It’s a good idea to unfasten the belt of your pack so that you can separate from your pack should you fall into the water, and carry a sturdy stick to maintain two points of contact with the ground at all times. Always listen for the sounds of large rocks and boulders getting moved around in the river, this means the water is strong and fast. Exercise extreme caution whenever deciding to cross a river. If conditions appear too hazardous or above your skill level, you should turn back and take an alternate route. Contact a park Wilderness Information Center and visit the park’s website, www.nps.gov/mora, for more information about hiking safety in Mt. Rainier National Park.