Climbing ranger lives to tell about it
|This photo was taken while Mike Gauthier was climbing Mount Rainier.|
|Photo: Mike Gauthier; courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park|
The “climbing ranger,” as Gauthier is called, directs the National Park Service’s mountaineering and rescue program at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.
Gauthier was named an American Red Cross Wilderness Rescue Hero in 1998 and one of the 25 Toughest Men in America by Men’s Health magazine in 2004.
This is the second time Gauthier will be in the area as part of the park’s Lyceum Distinguished Speaker Series, according to park officials. He also was here in 2002.
|Photo courtesy of Cuyahoga Valley National Park|
“It will be a unique show,” he said.
Gauthier was born in Washington but lived in several parts of the country due to his father’s military service. He considers the Northwest state his home.
At 11, he began backpacking. He credits his participation in Boy Scouts with piquing his interest in the outdoors.
“That created the foundation for enjoying the mountains,” Gauthier said.
At 16, he and a friend took their first mountaineering class and he climbed his first mountain in Olympic National Park in Washington.
His career in the national parks began when he was 15, when he served as a volunteer backcountry ranger at Olympic. He worked in a ranger station before going on to do an internship with the parks before being hired as a fire protection ranger. At 20, he joined Mount Rainier as a climbing ranger.
He admits he didn’t have the kind of experience that he should have had for the job.
“I was a young, energetic guy, but I didn’t have the experience that I would require now,” he said.
At that point in time, the climbing rangers didn’t get much respect from the guides and serious climbers, he said. They were without good equipment and often didn’t know much about climbing.
In 1995, when two of his fellow rangers were killed during a rescue attempt, Gauthier saw that things had to change.
“That event opened my eyes and expanded my emotional spectrum, so to speak,” he said. “Through that I got more fired up about making change in something that I saw was broken and not working well.”
More than a decade later, Gauthier said much has changed, but he hesitates to say working conditions for his crew are at their optimum.
“I would not say it’s permanently fixed, but there have been a significant number of improvements,” Gauthier said. “The park service, at least at Mount Rainier, didn’t get the business and industry [of mountain climbing] like they do now.
“It’s a serious part of our ranger program,” he said of the job of those involved in the rescue operations. “You have to have the right people working as a team. You always have to keep fighting for what you have.”
While he has been involved in dozens of skirmishes, Gauthier said his job isn’t always about fearless rescues on the glaciers. He estimates he and his crew handle 12 to 15 rescues in a year.
“The game of rescue in the mountains is there are moments of fast action where it’s dangerous,” he said. “But then there’s waiting.”
About 9,000 people summit the mountain successfully each year, Gauthier said. About a quarter of those who try don’t make it up, though. He said poor planning is usually the reason for climbers’ failure.
“People try when the weather is not so great and they’re not in great shape,” he said.
Over the years Gauthier also has explored his love of photography on the mountain. Many of his photos are in his book, “Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide.”
Gauthier’s presentation, which will begin at 7 p.m., is being presented by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association (CVNPA). Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for CVNPA members and $5 for children ages 3-12. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling (330) 657-2909 or at the door that evening. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The Happy Days Lodge is located at 500 W. Streetsboro Road (state Route 303) in Peninsula.
For more information, go to www.cvnpa.org.
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