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Wednesday, August 16, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Disabled climbers to get toilet on Rainier

The Associated Press

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK - Should nature call nearly two miles up the flank of Mount Rainier, a new outhouse will be accessible to all.

The new privy at Camp Muir, the overnight stop for climbers scaling the 14,411-foot mountain, is being built to accommodate the disabled.

"The mountain itself, that's Mother Nature. But if it's man-made, then it needs to be accessible to anybody," said Jeff Pagels of Ashwaubenon, Wis., a paraplegic who filed a complaint after struggling to use an outhouse at Camp Muir, at the mountain's 10,080-foot level.

Pagels, a five-time Olympic medalist in Nordic ski racing who was paralyzed by a falling tree in 1984, used a sledlike "sit ski" to ratchet up ropes laid over snow. Pagels took two days to reach Camp Muir on his June 1999 climb and was upset that it took four other climbers to help him into one of the outhouses at the camp.

Park officials decided to build a disabled-accessible outhouse rather than fight Pagels' complaint in court or seek a waiver from federal rules.

The outhouse was flown this week to Mount Rainier.

Pagels acknowledged he filed his complaint in part because he was upset over park officials' response to his climb. He was particularly angered, he said, when a park ranger forced him to change his path to avoid damage to plants.

"I felt like I was being extra scrutinized," Pagels said.

The complaint was supported by the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency that enforces laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

But another paraplegic climber said that Pagels' complaint could do more harm than good for the image of the disabled and that it wasn't the sort of issue the ADA was designed to address.

"It's a disservice to disabled people in that it makes us look petty," said Pete Rieke, a research chemist from Pasco who lost use of his legs in a 1994 climbing accident.

Rieke in June became the first paraplegic to reach Rainier's summit, using a hand-cranked, tracked "snow pod" he designed himself.

Rieke said it does little good to fly a wheelchair-accessible outhouse to snow- and rock-covered terrain where no wheelchair can go.

"Jeff Pagels is still going to have to be carried into the toilet," Rieke said. "His sit ski and my snow pod won't allow him to get into those facilities."

He said the park would be better off spending its disabled-accessible dollars somewhere besides the mountain.

But Mike Carney, the park's backcountry-maintenance supervisor and aviation manager, estimates the cost of designing, building and flying in the outhouse at about $6,000. It will be placed on an existing foundation.

In comparison, Camp Muir's other outhouses are designed to use sunlight to let waste evaporate in a greenhouselike environment and cost about $12,000 each.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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