There are no guarantees when attempting to summit a mountain

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During five TMC surgeons’ quest to conquer Mount Rainier, all made it to base camp June 20, but injury and illness sidelined two from heading to the top. (Read TMC surgeons eye Mt. Rainier as the next challenge to conquer for trip preview.)

TMC Chief of Staff Michael Probstfeld along with Drs. Tom Harmon and Luis Leon set out with, by chance, another surgeon, and their two guides at 2 a.m. June 21 to head to the summit. Dr. John Pacanowski injured his knee and Dr. Paul Yurkanin experienced altitude sickness, so the two remained at Camp Muir.

Approaching their goal was challenging, Probstfeld said, “It’s still dark, the air is getting thinner. We’re working hard, but moving slowly – one foot in front of the other.”

Guide JJ Justman reported “good, but cold weather with calm winds” as they neared the 14, 410-foot summit around 7:30 a.m.

The views were magnificent. Mount Saint Helens, with its top blown off, and Mount Adams greeted the party at daybreak. The TMC Summit Team unfurled its flag while a guide took video and photos. It was an exhilarating experience for all.

Only half of those who attempt to summit Mount Rainier succeed, Dr. Probstfeld said, so he was grateful that the weather was in their favor. It hadn’t been in the days before they first set out and would cause climbers to turn around that weekend.

“Not everyone has to summit,” Probstfeld said, “but everyone has to get down.”

Hiking down you have to be more careful, he explained. “You’ve reached your goal, but you’re tired. You don’t want to lose your concentration because you could fall. You have to focus on your foot placement. It’s cool to look around, but mostly I focused on what was in front of me, putting one foot in front of the other.”

Unfortunately, they had a stark reminder that climbing can never be taken for granted. That same day as they were coming down, the messages came over the guides’ radios that a hiking party of four had fallen into a crevasse. During the rescue effort, National Park Service Ranger Nick Hall, 33, fell 2,500 feet down the Emmons Glacier to his death. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to Ranger Hall’s family and the park service.

Welcome back docs. Hold onto those thoughts of cold weather and your adventure as you settle back into Tucson’s monsoon season ‑- safe and sound.

Watch short video of TMC Summit Team: 

See video clips at RMI Expedition guides Justman and Kel Rossiter’s blog of the Mt. Rainier: June 21 summit.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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