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Originally published Wednesday, July 28, 2010 at 12:26 PM

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Mount Rainier climber killed after fall into crevasse

A noted local climber fell to his death Tuesday in a crevasse high on Mount Rainier's Emmons Glacier. Lee F. Adams, 52, was killed Tuesday on Mount Rainier when he slid into a crevasse high on the Emmons Glacier.

Seattle Times staff reporters

A noted local climber fell to his death Tuesday in a crevasse high on Mount Rainier's Emmons Glacier.

Lee F. Adams, 52, was descending from the summit with three other climbers when the last person on the rope — not Adams — tripped and fell, according to Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Lee Taylor. Adams had been climbing with a friend and two of his friend's sons from Texas.

The four were swept off their feet and, after unsuccessfully trying to stop their fall, slid into a 35-foot-deep crevasse at 13,000 feet.

The first two climbers landed on a false floor and sustained minor injuries. The other two, including Adams, fell farther. One sustained knee injuries and Adams, the last person into the crevasse, died in the fall.

The three surviving climbers scrambled out of the crevasse and made their way back to Camp Schurman, the high camp at 9,450 feet. They spent the night there with climbing rangers.

The injured climber was flown off the mountain by helicopter Wednesday while the other two members of the party were hiking out.

On Wednesday afternoon, climbing rangers were able to retrieve Adams' body and fly it off the mountain, Taylor said. Adams was the third person to die on the mountain this summer.

Taylor said the weather and climbing conditions were good at the time of the accident. Falling is the most common cause of death on Rainier, she added.

Adams, a native of Maine, had been a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle since October. Before that, he was a principal scientist at Theraclone Sciences.

"He brought a genuine enthusiasm to his work every day and many of us considered him a real friend," ISB officials wrote in a news release Wednesday.

Adams also was an instructor at the Washington Alpine Club and close to Pat O'Brien, who heads the group.

"He was an instructor and good friend," O'Brien said. "He was a very experienced climber."

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O'Brien said last year he had climbed the 100 highest peaks in Washington, and Adams was with him on 10 to 15 of those climbs, including some of the most difficult.

"Lee was as rock-solid of a partner as anyone would want," said O'Brien. "It seems strange after all those close calls on dangerous mountains, on a standard route on Rainier it happens there."

He said Adams, who had been an alpine instructor for at least 10 years, had climbed Rainier several times and also liked to ski.

"As an instructor, he was one of our rocks," said O'Brien. "It's a force of nature to know Lee, and it's hard to imagine anything ever stopping him."

Kristen Young was descending the mountain Monday after summitting the day before when she ran into Adams at Camp Schurman. Adams had been her instructor at the Alpine Club. She told him about something she'd just heard — that if you keep up a certain level of fitness into your 50s, you'll keep charging into your 80s.

Adams, blade-thin and silhouetted against the glacier behind him, raised both fists into the air, recalls Young.

"He was shouting, 'Woo hoo, I'm good, I'm going to be climbing,' " Young said. "He always responded to life like that, in such an excited fashion."

Young said that when she'd summitted, she'd been wearing a $3 hat she'd bought from Adams at a club sale four years ago.

Murray Kahn, another friend who was heading up to the mountain Wednesday, said Adams was "an amazing guy."

"He's my buddy, my neighbor, the kind of guy you want to be with when everything goes right and when everything goes wrong," said Kahn. He said in addition to his work with the Alpine Club, Adams, "a real solid guy," taught sailing at the Center for Wooden Boats.

Kahn said the route Adams was taking on the mountain was not particularly dangerous and is one of the standard routes for novice climbers. "He's exceptional in assessing snow and avalanches, and there's no one I'd rather be with on a trip."

Another climbing partner, Susan Ashlock, said she is a newer climber, "and I considered it a real honor to climb with him. He was one of the smartest people I know."

She said Adams was always building stuff on their climbs, like piling rocks for cairns or digging a snow pit.

"He had so much energy, more than an 18-year-old. I can't look at pictures of him without smiling."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com; Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

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