Body of Chris Hooyman Recovered

Denali summit ridge
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(photo: Kaj Bune)
RMI Guide Third to Die on Alaska's Mount Denali in Two Weeks
Monday, June 15, 1998

The body of Rainier Mountaineering Inc. Assistant Guide Chris Hooyman, 21, was recovered on Mount Denali (McKinley) Sunday by the National Park Service Lama helicopter. Three ground searches earlier in the week revealed no signs of the climber. His ice ax was found in an initial search of his fall line. This is the first time in a week that weather conditions allowed an aerial search of the area where Hooyman fell.

During today's search National Park Service Ranger Roger Robinson spotted Hooyman's body at the 15,200 foot level near a crevasse on the Peter's Glacier. The climber fell last Saturday from the 17,000 foot level of the West Buttress Route on Mt. McKinley. Hooyman fell on June 6 when he attempted to aid a climber in his group who had fallen and was having trouble regaining their footing. It appears that Hooyman unclipped from the roped group and fell while descending towards the other climber.

On June 11 there were 1,161 climbers registered to climb Mt. McKinley and 459 climbers currently on the mountain. There have been 126 successful summits of the 20,320 foot high peak so far this year. Weather stranded four planes and many climbers on the Kahiltna Glacier at the end of this week. This afternoon there were partly cloudy skies and temperatures of 12 degrees Fahrenheit at the 14,000 foot level on McKinley.

Hooyman was from the Seattle area and had summited Mt. Rainier 35 times and Mt. McKinley twice before. His group had summited on June 4 and was descending when his fall occurred.

Third Ground Search Reveals Nothing on Denali
1,100 Feet of Fall Line Descended
Tuesday, June 9, 1998 (5pm PST)

A third ground search of the area where 21-year-old assistant mountaineering guide Chris Hooyman was last seen on Alaska's Mount Denali has proven fruitless. Volunteer Ranger Dr. Colin Grissom and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI) guide Brent Okita were able to search 1,100 feet down the fall line where Hooyman, of Seattle, was last seen Saturday.

The National Park Service late today reported that Okita "descended to within 500 feet of the Peter's Glacier on fixed lines and found no trace of Hooyman."

"Okita and Grissom reported that the climber would have fallen through a 125 foot long band of rock and that the base of the slope is laden with seracs and crevasses," the Park Service reported.

When weather permits, Park Service personnel will continue to look for Hooyman using the Lama helicopter which has, due to zero visibility, been grounded in Talkeetna.

According to the Park Service, an aircraft from Hudson Air Service looked for a break in the solid cloud bank that stretches from 14,000 down, but was forced to return to Talkeetna without success.

[scroll down for initial report and May Denali tragedy]

Guide Was Aiding Another When He Disappeared
Zero Visibility Thwarting Search

Thursday, June 9, 1998 (12pm PST)

Assistant RMI Guide Chris Hooyman, 21, of Seattle, apparently unclipped from a roped team to assist a climber who slipped when he fell and disappeared on the West Buttress Route of Denali Saturday, the National Park Service has reported.

"Hooyman unclipped from the roped team to assist the climber and then fell out of sight..."
Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI) Lead Guide Phil Ershler and his clients were able to descend to the 14,200 foot camp late yesterday afternoon after spending nearly two days at the 17,200 foot high camp. The team had not been able to summit Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley, Saturday and were descending the icy route when Hooyman fell.

"The initial interview with Ershler has added some insight into how Hooyman fell. The accident occurred as the group was descending at the 17,000 foot level of the West Buttress route," the National Park Service has reported.

"The group of six were roped together with Chris at the end of the group of climbers. One of the climbers fell and had trouble getting back up on their feet. It appears that Hooyman unclipped from the roped team to assist the climber and then fell out of sight," the report said.

Ershler and a fellow RMI Guide were able to search, by fixed rope, 750 feet of the fall line Saturday, but found only Hooyman's ice ax. The guides and clients then returned to high camp.

Weather has severely obstructed the search attempts, though there are numerous rescue personnel on the mountain.

"Weather conditions are still socked in," Denali Press Information Officer Jane Tranel said, "it's still 20 mile an hour winds but visibility is down to zero so we're not able to fly the Lama helicopter."

Dr. Colin Grissom, a volunteer climbing ranger and Brent Okita, an RMI guide were able to climb to high camp at 17,200 feet and have successfully set 1,200 feet of fixed line "and are prepared to use another 600 feet of line if necessary," the Park Service reported.

Weather conditions have once again deteriorated on the mountain with winds of 30 miles per hour and poor visibility. Two other National Park Service volunteer climbing rangers are also headed up to the high camp to assist.

The Park Service also reported that Hooyman did summit McKinley with lead guide Phil Ershler and their clients on Thursday night of last week

Guide Missing on Denali
RMI Guide Last Seen Saturday
Monday, June 8, 1998

In what has been a devastating two weeks on Denali, a 21-year-old assistant Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI) guide who fell while descending Denali on Saturday remains missing. Severe weather is greatly limiting any search and rescue attempts.

Chris Hooyman, of Seattle, fell at the 16,800 foot level Saturday while descending the West Buttress Route, a 40° slope of solid blue ice and rock bands. Hooyman's party reportedly did not summit the 20,320 foot mountain, also known as Mt. McKinley, in the Denali National Park..

Denali spokeswoman Jane Tranel said Monday that whiteout conditions remain, but that the wind has somewhat diminished. Hoping for a window, Tranel said, the ground search is "ready to roll" from the 14,200 foot camp and the high altitude Lama helicopter, out of Talkeetna, Alaska is standing by.

RMI guides Phil Ershler and Jeff Ward were able to search 750 feet of the fall line Saturday but found only Hooyman's ice ax. Weather has forced rescuers to seek shelter in snow caves and tents.

At 9:10 a.m. Monday morning, Ershler and four clients were getting ready to descend from 17,200 feet to the 14,200 foot camp. There is another RMI group, that may be lead by Ward, on the mountain as well, but Tranel said it was not known if they were descending with Ershler's group.

The severe weather has interrupted radio communications so it has been difficult to know exactly what is happening on the mountain. The cause of Hooyman's fall and details of the incident are unknown at this time.

Today's forecasts for the Alaska Range called for diminishing snow and winds, but winds on the summit were not expected to lessen. Yesterday's forecast called for two feet of snow below and one foot above 14,000 feet. Winds were predicted at 50 mph in base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier at 7,200 feet, increasing to 70 mph at 14,200 feet and 100 mph on the summit, the Park Service reported.

RMI is one of six guiding services authorized to lead climbs in the park.

Volunteer rescuer Mike Vanderbeek, 33, who fell on this route May 24 has not been found. Vanderbeek was searching for a climber who was later found dead. Sarah Love, Mountain Zone Staff

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