Valley hiker killed at Headlee Pass had passion for people

Diane Larson - Courtesy photo
Diane Larson
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Diane Larson, 36, of Snoqualmie, was pursuing her goal of helping children when she fell to her death on a hike Saturday, Jan. 25.

The experienced snow-shoer was on her first hike with Climbers with a Purpose, a group raising funds to help refugee children in Burma when she fell, in what fellow climber Will Neiss described as “just one of those freak accidents.”

Neiss, founder of Climbers with a Purpose, said he was the closest person to Larson when she fell.

The group of 13 had decided by about 2 p.m. to turn around, he said.

“We were still at about 4,100 feet, but no one was going to complete the hike that day just because of the conditions,” he said. Visibility was fine, and it was warm with no wind, he said, but recent warm days had melted the snow in spots, which then refroze overnight becoming dangerous icy patches, but “there were sections of it that were perfectly good soft snow, too.”

Larson was turning around, Neiss said, when she must have hit an icy patch.

“It wasn’t steep where she slipped, it was a very low-degree angle,” he said. “She literally just tripped over her snowshoe, and then she fell.”

Larson tumbled several hundred feet, sustaining a fatal neck injury. She was airlifted from the peak nearly four hours later, and was in and out of consciousness throughout the ordeal, Neiss said.

Her death was a blow to Neiss and other members of Climbers with a Purpose. The group met Thursday, Jan. 30 for a grieving session rather than the planned training, and cancelled its mountaineering school scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1 —Larson would have been in the class, Neiss said. Northwest Ministries Network, where Larson worked, held a memorial service for her on Saturday at Eastridge Church in Issaquah.

Larson was born in Muskegon, Mich. and was always active outdoors. She lived in Minnesota, where she received her undergraduate degree from North Central University in Minneapolis, as well as Chicago, New York, and Alaska, where she served from 2005 to 2010 as a counselor working with at-risk youth with the Galena Interior Learning Acacademy. She then moved to Washington, where she worked with mentally handicapped adults at a Bellevue facility, while pursuing her graduate degree. She became an ordained minister with Assemblies of God in 2011, and last January she joined the Northwest Ministry Network staff. She worked in the Assembly of God district office on Snoqualmie Ridge, where she learned about Climbers with a Purpose.

“Three different people told her about it,” Neiss said. The group appealed to her because “she wanted to get involved in an area where she could help children,” and children were the focus of this year’s Climbers with a Purpose project.

The Bueng Klueng Childrens Hostel, run by the Thai Christian Foundation, takes in children fleeing from religious conflict child in the country, many of them orphaned by violence. “These children are given a home, food, clothing and education,” said Neiss. “They get the children equipped to live on their own.”

Larson had also been involved with Valley Renewal Center, which opened an emergency winter shelter for the homeless last winter.

“She just had an incredible passion for working with people, she loved people,” said Neiss.

Because of her passion, he said the group has already decided to continue its work. Climbers is planning five different summits trip, including Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens this summer.

Neiss, who met with Larson’s parents last week, said “everybody’s encouraged us to continue… they said Diane would want us to.”

Larson was very experienced, he said, and thus knew the risks inherent with any trip into the wilderness.

“She really wanted to be there,” he said.

Larson’s parents, Joe and Darlene Larson, planned to take her body back to Michigan this week for a funeral.


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