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Mt. Hood climber killed by summer rockfall

Recovery Mission on the Eliot Glacier Headwall
From the Portland Mountain Rescue Website
July 28, 2008

Late afternoon on Sunday, July 27th, Portland Mountain Rescue received a call-out from Hood River County Sheriffs Office requesting our assistance with a rescue on the north side of Mt Hood. A 55-year-old man, climbing with his son, had been struck by a rock while descending Cooper Spur after a successful ascent of the Sunshine Route. The impact caused the climber to tumble out of control, off the flank of the Spur, and out of sight over the Eliot Headwall -falling approximately 1000 feet.

PMR members began assembling at Cloud Cap Inn at 8:30 pm. At the same time, a fixed-wing aircraft was conducting a search of the upper Eliot and the Headwall. The pilot and observer were able to identify with some confidence where the climber had come to rest -at the base of a vertical waterfall, about 80 feet from the Eliot Glacier. Confirmation of the location was provided after dark by a helicopter from the Oregon National Guard 1042nd Medical Company equipped with a powerful spotlight. This flight also determined that the man was probably deceased.

At approximately 2:45 am, two PMR teams, each accompanied by a member of the Crag Rats (Hood River Search and Rescue), entered the field. The rescue teams were to stage a team at an area above the fallen climber and another team below on the Eliot Glacier. The rescue team below encountered a large bergschrund, decomposing snow ramps, and was exposed to high amounts of rock fall. Because of these hazardous conditions the lower team aborted their efforts to reach the fallen climber's body. At around 8:00 am the upper team began lowering a rescuer from the Crag Rats down to the body. Natural rock fall at the time was minimal, but rock fall induced by operations was still a factor. Unfortunately, the 300-foot ropes fell short of reaching the slotted waterfall where the subject had come to rest. The rescuer was raised back up, options were considered, and a request was put in for delivery of a 600-foot rope.

Because of lack of time and available personnel to carry the heavy rope package up the mountain, the 1042nd was recruited again, but this time to perform a basket drop. This was accomplished in the early afternoon. At around 3:00 pm, using the longer rope, the upper team was successful at lowering a rescuer down to reach the fallen climber's body. The subject was attached to the lowering system and then both the subject and rescuer were lowered the rest of the way down to the glacier. This process took several hours due to the difficult terrain and tediousness of navigating around obstacles on the mountain, but eventually the rescuers were able to get the subject down onto the Eliot Glacier.

The lower team packaged the subject into a litter and began moving down the glacier at around 5:30 pm. Additional volunteers from PMR, Multnomah County and Klickitat
County SAR met the convoy where the trail leaves the glacier and climbs the moraine. The subject was then ferried down the remainder of the mountain on a wheeled litter arriving at Cloud Cap around 8:45 pm.

Photo of rescuers on the Eliot Glacier on the North side of Mt. Hood, Oregon.
Courtesy of Steve Rollins.

Mt Hood's Sunshine and Cooper Spur routes, although fun and challenging, are best achieved earlier on in the season when there is the appropriate amount of snow coverage to help minimize hazardous rock fall. If attempting these, along with all the various climbing routes on the mountain, later in the season, it is best to begin at an early hour when temperatures are colder and to have alternate descent plans in mind in case route conditions are different from expected. Also it is strongly encouraged to wear the proper climbing safety equipment.


What can climbers learn from this tragic event?

Steve Rollins helps make the point that the objective dangers of soft snow and rock fall on warming slopes in the summer may make the risks too high for the rewards of a local summit. This increased risk from warming snow slopes is the same during all of the seasons, but summer puts the climber face to face with soft snow footing and skipping rocks whistling past, not to mention slough avalanches and major releases and rockfall.

Mt. Hood is said to be "out of condition" in the summer. Ramps of winter snow blown over the top of ridges and summit are replaced by steep walls of rotten ice at the Pearly Gates on the south side Standard Route.

There are several accidents reported on this website caused by rock fall and sliding warming summer slopes. Read More below for information about some of the objective hazards of climbing volcanic cones.
--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 Systems" 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.



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


Read more
Mount Hood - Fatal ice fall below the Pearly Gates during warming winter weather
Mount Hood - Fatal rock fall on the Elliot Headwall during summer conditions
Mt. Rainier -  Fatality from falling rock in summer conditions
North Sister - Climbers swept by avalanche while descending Thayer Glacier Snowfield
North Sister - AAC Report of fatal fall from east side by Martina Testa
Mount Hood - Climber injured by falling ice, rescued by helicopter
Mount Hood - Avalanche proves fatal for member of Mazamas climbing group
Mount Hood - Final Report to the American Alpine Club on the loss of three climbers in December 2006
Mount Hood - Veteran climber injured during ice axe arrest on Mt Hood

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Missing climbers on Mount Hood, one dies of exposure, two believed killed in fall
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