MONROE, Wash. -- The climbing partner of a Monroe firefighter killed in an avalanche on Mount Rainier says he's not angry that his friend died.
Matt Little, who dug frantically through the snow in an effort to rescue his roommate, Aaron Koester, said they felt exhilarated and close to God in the hours before Sunday's avalanche.
"He was doing what he loved to do," Little said Tuesday at a news conference at the fire station in Monroe, about 25 miles north of Seattle. "We were living life and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
Little, 23, and Koester, 21, were roped together when the avalanche hit.
Little's head and one arm remained above the snow, but it took him half an hour to dig himself out before he could turn to his friend.
After finally reaching Koester, Little said he dug away enough snow to know his friend had died and told him: " 'Well buddy, I'll see you in heaven, but I gotta go.' "
He then climbed down to Camp Muir, elevation 10,000 feet, and used a radio to call for help, contacting a hunter near Naches who called park rangers.
Three rangers racing to beat a snowstorm on the 14,411-foot peak recovered Koester's body from the 11,600-foot level with the aid of a helicopter on Monday.
There are usually few climbers on the mountain at this time of year because of the likelihood of harsh weather.
Park spokeswoman Patti Wold said the two were on Ingraham Glacier, practicing for an ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska, when they followed a snow ramp into a crevasse near Disappointment Cleaver.
They were walking out on another ramp when it collapsed, Wold said.
Koester, the fifth climber and the second firefighter to die on Mount Rainier this year, "loved the beauty of the mountains, the challenge of it," his friend Tyler Firchau said earlier. "He loved being in God's creation."
Both men were experienced climbers. Koester had scaled Rainier once and Little twice. In five days last year they climbed Mount Hood in Oregon and Mounts Shasta and Whitney in California.
Koester "kind of liked to push the limits of everything he did," said his father, Bruce Koester of Monroe. "He's going to be sorely missed. Everywhere he went, he made friends."
The day before Koester left for Mount Rainier, he applied for a full-time job with the Monroe Fire Department after two years as a volunteer working nights and weekends.
The previous deaths this year on Mount Rainier occurred during the spring and on the Liberty Ridge route.
There have been 94 recorded deaths of climbers trying to reach the summit of the mountain.