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Friday, January 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Redmond native dies on Kilimanjaro

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

As a teenager growing up in Redmond, Kristian Ferguson had read about the melting glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, and decided he would one day see them. After years of dreaming, Ferguson and his wife, Jodi Coochise, departed for Africa the day after Christmas with the intent of reaching the summit of Africa's tallest mountain.

On Wednesday, Ferguson, 27, was killed by a rock slide as he and Coochise slept in their tent near Arrow glacier, on Kilimanjaro's difficult Western Breach. Coochise was not hurt.

He was one of three Americans killed as boulders rained down on the camp in the early morning. Two others were seriously injured.

Also killed were Mary Lou Sammis, 58, of Huntington, N.Y., and Betty Orrik Sapp, 63, of Tennessee.

Ferguson's parents, Paul and Kerrie, said their son and daughter-in-law had been training for the climb for about a year, hiking many of the peaks in Colorado in preparation.

"Kris' passion is anything adventurous and outdoorsy," said Kerrie Ferguson. Both parents, long-time Redmond residents, visited the couple in Colorado over Thanksgiving where the upcoming trip to Africa was a frequent topic of conversation.

"Before I left, I enjoined them both to be careful," Paul Ferguson said. "I had read about the mountain, that it is beautiful and looks serene, but it's still a high and wild mountain."

Kristian Ferguson graduated class valedictorian from Eastside Catholic High School and summa cum laude from Gonzaga University, where he met his wife. The two eventually settled in Colorado, where Kristian worked as a satellite engineer at Ball Aerospace & Technologies in Boulder.

Of the world's top peaks, Kilimanjaro is among the easiest to scale, though, as Wednesday's slide demonstrated, it can be deadly.

According to The Associated Press, the climbers set out Saturday to climb the Umbwe route, the most difficult on Mount Kilimanjaro, which at 19,340 feet is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Even so, the route is considered only a very difficult hike, not requiring safety ropes or special equipment.

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The group had taken several days to reach the camp at Arrow glacier, the normal resting point at 15,800 feet, before reaching the summit of Uhuru peak along the Umbwe route. Climbers usually arrive before nightfall and sleep until they begin the ascent at around 2 a.m. to reach the summit at dawn.

Above the camp site is a steep slope of loose gravel and above that is the crater wall of a now-extinct volcano. While the climbers were sleeping, boulders and rocks broke off the wall and fell onto the camp site, said Thomas Kimaro, owner of Alpine Tours.

James Wakibara, acting spokesman for Mount Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania, said a rescue team was immediately sent up the mountain along with every available porter to help bring down the dead and injured. By Thursday morning, more than 50 foreign climbers had been brought down, some with minor injuries, and the Umbwe route was clear, he said.

More than 20,000 tourists attempt to climb the mountain every year. About 10 people die each year during the climb, usually from high-altitude sickness.

But rock slides are rare, Wakibara said.

Regional police commander Mohamed Chico said experts were on the mountain Thursday trying to determine what caused the slide.

Warmer temperatures over the past decade have melted some of Mount Kilimanjaro's glaciers, causing them to retreat, which has loosened rocks once held in place by ice.

Rachael Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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