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New: Berkeley Hiker Describes Climbing Partner's Fatal Mount Shasta Climb

By Bay City News
Friday April 02, 2010 - 12:06:00 AM

The family and the climbing partner of an Oakland man who was found dead on Mt. Shasta this morning released a statement today detailing the climb and recalling their loved one. 

Thomas Bennett, 26, was a chemical engineer who attended school in  

Vancouver, British Columbia, and then worked for a mining company at high  

altitudes in the Andes Mountains without ever experiencing any trouble with  

altitude sickness, according to Bennett's father. 

His climbing partner on the trip, 26-year-old Mark Thomas, of  

Berkeley, is an experienced climber who has climbed Mt. Shasta numerous times  

and has also scaled Mt. McKinley in Alaska. 

Thomas said Bennett appeared to have suffered from altitude  

sickness over the weekend, which left him stranded on Mt. Shasta.  

The pair had purchased mountain summit passes in advance of their  

trip and had left a detailed itinerary with friends before heading out on  

Thursday. They were prepared with proper climbing equipment and cold-weather  

gear, Thomas said. He added that when they left, avalanche and weather  

reports did not indicate warnings of severe weather or wind. 

He said he has since learned that Mt. Shasta was closed to  

climbers on Saturday, but the climbers had been on a remote side of the  

mountain since Thursday night and did not hear of the closure. 

Thomas said they camped at 5,000 feet at the trailhead on Thursday  

night and took to the trail, each with a 50-pound pack, at around 5 a.m.  

Friday morning on snowshoes. 

They made camp at 9,800 feet and at that point, Thomas said,  

neither showed any signs of altitude sickness. 

On Saturday, they decided to head to the summit because the wind  

was not too extreme, according to his anemometer, and Thomas said conditions  

appeared safe. He later learned that the worst of the wind had been blocked  

by other parts of the mountain. 

Thomas said that when the two reached the ridge at the summit,  

which is at nearly 14,200 feet, according to the Mt. Shasta travel center Web  

site, the winds were strong enough to make it impossible to stand. Because it  

was close to the end of the day, the two decided to spend the night near the  

summit at a protected site and descend at first light. 

They dug a shelter and Thomas said they talked throughout the  

night to check for signs of hypothermia or altitude sickness and found none.  

The next morning, winds had decreased and skies had cleared, but when they  

started their descent Bennett began experiencing symptoms of what Thomas  

described as acute high altitude sickness, including blindness and extreme  


He said Bennett's condition deteriorated quickly as winds worsened  

and soon couldn't walk. Thomas brought Bennett back to the protected area  

where they had camped and called 9-1-1 for search and rescue, but he was  

barely able to get out the call before the phone failed due to the cold. 

Thomas felt a storm approaching and dug a snow cave then moved  

Bennett, who was no longer responsive. Thomas said he attempted CPR but was  

unable to revive his friend. 

When he was certain there was nothing more that he could do,  

Thomas said he warmed up the phone enough to make another call to rescuers  

and decided to leave before worsening weather conditions prevented him from  


Both Thomas and the Bennett family say they would like to express  

their sincere appreciation to everyone who participated in the rescue  


They have asked those who feel the need to express their  

condolences through a donation to give it to the Siskiyou County Sheriff's  

Office Search and Rescue Fund at 305 Butte St., Yreka, CA, 96097.