MOUNT RAINIER, Wash. – A Seattle scientist and avid climber was killed Tuesday when he fell into a crevasse on Mount Rainier.
Lee F. Adams, 52, was part of a four-man crew descending the mountain on Emmons Glacier at about 13,000 feet Tuesday when the last person on the rope tripped and fell. The men were swept off their feet, couldn't stop their fall and plummeted about 100 feet into a 35-foot deep crevasse, where Adams died on impact, according to a Mount Rainier National Park officials.
Another climber was hurt, and the two others avoided injury when they fell onto a false floor. Adams fell further, said park spokeswoman Lee Taylor.
"Once you start sliding down slope it can be very difficult to stop that fall and often teams that do fall end up sliding pretty far and going into a crevasse and that's what eventually stops them and that's what happened in this case," said Park spokeswoman, Lee Taylor.
"Big shock ... I'm just surprised it was Lee," said Fred Slater, a member of the Washington Alpine Club, where Adams helped teach for many years. "We all expected him to continue climbing well into his 60s. He was so fast. No one could ever keep up with Lee. He would out-climb and out-hike anybody."
Adams was a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle with an expertise in molecular biology.
"He was instrumental to [our research]," said Debbie Chang, a friend who worked right next to Adams in the lab and in the office. "I mean, without him, I don't think we could have even started the project."
Chang said she and her co-workers were in "complete shock" when they found out about Adams' death. She said Adams loved talking about skiing and climbing.
"He was a really good friend to a lot of us," she said. "He was a really amazing person... He was just really really cheerful every day, and never complained, and it was really great working with him."
Pat O'Brien, climbing chairman at the Washington Alpine Club, said Adams was climbing with a friend from Texas and the friend's two teenage sons. The crew, he said, was descending on the second most popular route on the 14,411-foot mountain. Crevasses in that area can be more than 150 deep, O'Brien said.
O'Brien described Adams as an experienced outdoorsman, climber and avid skier. He had been a volunteer instructor at the club for more than 10 years.
The three surviving climbers were able to climb out of the crevasse to reach Camp Schurman at 9,450 feet, where they spent Tuesday night in company of climbing rangers, Taylor said. Two of climbers were climbing down the mountain Wednesday, and the injured climber was airlifted.
On Wednesday climbing rangers were dropped off by helicopter on the Winthrop Saddles and made their way to the accident site. They retrieved Adams' body from the crevasse and it was airlifted off of the mountain by helicopter.
Two of the surviving climbers were able to hike out on their own and the third was flown off of the mountain.
"It is tragic that a simple misstep had such severe consequences for this team. Our sympathy goes out to Adams' family and friends," said Mount Rainier National Park Information Officer Lee Taylor.
It's the third climbing death on the mountain this summer.