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Mountain climbers deserve rescue

Mount Rainier. (MyNorthwest, Stephanie Klein)

Four climbers were rescued from near the summit of Mt. Rainier this week after they were stranded on the mountain for four days. It’s a happy ending to a harrowing story, and one those climbers will surely tell the rest of their lives.

Climber rescued from Mount Rainier shares survival story

Another story involves the efforts of Search and Rescue personnel to save those climbers. After events like these, the question inevitably arises: how much time and money was dedicated to saving those people?

Here’s a common sentiment from the comments section below the latest update on the story: “I’d like to know the costs and resources committed whenever they have to rescue these dumb (expletives) off a mountain.”

Obviously, the costs vary widely depending on the resources involved. Time is also a factor. In a national park like Mt. Rainier, the National Park Service foots the bill. Typically, the money comes from park entrance fees. When the military gets involved, they often charge their costs to training hours.

Buried in the question of who pays, however, is another question: do mountain climbers deserve rescue?

The question involves the assumption of negligence. Many non-climbers assume mountain climbers intentionally put themselves in harm’s way. It follows then that since they chose to put themselves in a precarious position, they are less deserving of help.

In reality, mountain climbing accidents account for a small percentage of SAR operations executed by the two federal agencies (Coast Guard and the National Park Service) often tasked with managing them. Lots of rescues involve hikers, swimmers, or boaters.

Is a hiker who wanders off-trail and ends up lost more deserving of rescue because hiking is a more conventional activity? Or how about a swimmer who misjudges the strength and temperature of a mountain river and finds herself in hypothermic shock? Is she more deserving of rescue than the climber whose tent was blown away and “should’ve known better” than to be there in the first place? Of course not.

Climbers don’t intend to put their lives at risk. Even those undertaking difficult and exposed routes, they do so assuming their level of mastery is up to the challenge. They don’t plan on having an accident — rock fall, an avalanche, unexpectedly high winds. In the case of the climbers rescued this week, the National Park Service said their technical climbing ability “contributed greatly to their own successful rescue.”

Accidents happen. Helping someone in need, regardless of how that person got there, isn’t a financial transaction. It’s just the right thing to do.

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