By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state fell over 3,000 feet to his death while trying to rescue stranded climbers who had fallen into a crevasse on the frigid mountain, park officials said on Friday.
Rescuers had lifted one climber into a helicopter and were preparing to lift a second when ranger Nick Hall, 34, fell to his death on Thursday as high winds whipped through the area.
They managed to airlift three of the four climbers to safety but were forced to leave one member of the party, Stacy Wren of Waco, Texas, on the mountain overnight with two rangers to help her after the fatal fall, park spokeswoman Brandi Stewart said.
Wren, 20, described as battered and bruised from her ordeal, was forced to hike down in the snow. She spent the night in a bivouac sack, which is a shelter smaller than a tent, and on Friday she and the two rangers reached the mountain's Sherman camp, which is at an elevation of 9,500 feet, Stewart said.
The weather there remains bad, with blizzard conditions complicating her hike down the mountain. "So getting her warm again and dry and preparing to come down the rest of the way" is a priority, Stewart said.
Climbers reached Hall, who was a former U.S. Marine originally from Maine according to his Facebook page, several hours after the fall and confirmed his death.
"We believe high winds contributed to his fall," said Kevin Bacher, spokesman for the Mount Rainier National Park.
The party of four climbers, two men and two women had been linked together by ropes as they climbed on a glacier, Bacher said. They are all believed to be from Waco.
It was not clear why Wren was left behind when the other three climbers were rescued. But a statement from the Park Service said the airlift occurred amid high winds and a rapidly lowering cloud ceiling.
Two of the group fell into a crevasse and one person in the group called for help with a cell phone. With that pair dangling by ropes in the crevasse, the two remaining climbers anchored themselves into the glacier, he said.
The summit of Mount Rainier is 14,410 feet above sea level. About 5,000 climbers reach the mountain's summit every year, and the mountain is considered a good training ground for other peaks, such as North America's tallest, Mount McKinley in Alaska, Stewart said.
Since 1897, there have been 117 climbing-related fatalities on Mount Rainier, she said.
Hall's death marked the second of a Mount Rainier park ranger this year. Margaret Anderson, 34, was shot and killed on New Year's Day at a roadblock when she stopped a man suspected in a New Year's Eve shooting in Seattle.
Washington state Governor Chris Gregoire expressed condolences to the family and friends of Hall.
"Those who put their lives on the line to protect the lives of others are to be commended," she said.
(Additional reporting by Elaine Porterfield in Seattle and Dan Burns in New York; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Greg McCcune, Doina Chiacu)