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Two climbers become lost descending Mt. Hood

PMR Rescues Climbers Lost in Whiteout
Sunday, May 28, 2006

On Sunday evening, a team from Portland Mountain Rescue rescued a party of two climbers who became lost in a whiteout on the descent from Crater Rock after climbing Mt. Hood. Upon reaching about 5800 ft in the Paradise Park area of the mountain, the climbers realized they were lost and called 911 for assistance.

PMR Rescue Leader Steve Rollins made cell phone contact with the subjects and determined that the climbers had a working GPS, two compasses (one of which was set to “20 degrees declination”), no map or altimeter. The climbers had reportedly forgotten to mark Timberline Lodge as a waypoint in their GPS and thus were not able to use it to reach Timberline Lodge and avoid becoming lost.

Rollins talked the climbers through configuring their GPS for the NAD27 map datum, and to use UTM coordinates. He was then able to determine the climber's location and provided three sets of waypoints and bearings to get the climbers safely over to the Paradise Park trail. This trail would ultimately lead them out of the woods and avoid the avalanche danger higher on the mountain.

After a series of phone calls and navigation errors, it was determined that the climber’s GPS had somehow switched map datum's off of NAD27 (causing their location to be inaccurately reported relative to the map Rollins was using.) Additionally, the climbers had set their compass to 20 degrees *West* declination, instead of 20 degrees *East*. As a result, the climber's track was always about 40 degrees off the track they were attempting to follow.

The error in the climber’s compass declination setting may have contributed to them becoming lost and also hindered their progress to the Paradise Park trail. Though the navigation problems were resolved over the telephone, darkness was approaching and the climbers were tired, so a ground team of rescuers was sent up the Paradise Park trail to assist the climbers in their descent.

PMR Rescue Leader Mike Ochsner, assisted by rescuers Maria Nelsen and Tom Gall, started up the Paradise Park trail at sundown. Traveling light and fast, the team was able to make contact with the two tired climbers at about 10:30 pm. The group then slowly made their way over seven miles down the trail, arriving at the trailhead around 1:30 am.

This incident highlights the following climber safety fundamentals that should be followed:
- Always bring a map and compass, and have the knowledge of how to use them proficiently.
- A GPS is helpful in navigating, but GPS units are not a replacement for a map and compass.
- Do not forget to mark your entrance and exit points in your GPS before leaving on a backcountry trip
- Cell phones can be helpful in initiating a rescue, but cell coverage may not be strong or reliable.
- Be sure to bring sufficient navigation and survival gear when traveling in the backcountry, particularly when poor weather is predicted.



What can be learned from this current event?
The primary purpose of these TraditionalMountaineering experience reports (and the American Alpine Club's fifty eight Annual Report's of Accidents in North American Mountaineering) is to aid in the prevention of accidents.

It is best to know how to use your map, compass and GPS together before you climb Mt. Hood.

Just walking down the south side route fall line from Crater Rock to the huge Timberline Lodge facility does not work because the fall line leads to the ice fall of the Zig Zag Glacier to the west of the Lodge. This effect is called the Mt. Hood Triangle.
--Webmeister Speik


A suggested minimum standard news advisory for all backcountry travelers

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Oregon to plan for the unexpected.  Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out, insulation from the wet ground or snow, high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a map and compass and optional inexpensive GPS and the skills to use them, and a charged cell phone and inexpensive walkie-talkie radios. Carry the traditional personal "Ten Essentials" in a day pack sized for the season and the forecast weather.

Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned. If you become lost or stranded, mark your location and stay still or move around your marked location to stay warm. Do not try to find your way until you are exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Wait for rescuers.



"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated

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  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

  Our Leader's Guidelines:
  Our Volunteer Leader Guidelines
  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
  Sample Prospectus    Make sure every leader tells you what the group is going to do; print a copy for your "responsible person"
  Participant Information Form    This pdf form can be printed and mailed or handed to the Leader if requested or required
  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit   
Print this form. Make up your own first aid essentials (kits) 

  About our World Wide Website:

  Map, Compass and GPS
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BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA 
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play?  Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"