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Mount Hood accident claims three lives in catastrophic fall into the Bergschrund
Helicopter crashes during rescue of survivors


Final Report on MT. Hood Climbing Accident

On 05/30/2002 at about 08:30 hrs. AM, a group of climbers on the south side of Mount Hood in the area above the Bergschrund crevasse fell. 

All of these subjects involved in the fall went into the crevasse below them, Mr. William Ward, Mr. Richard Read and Mr. John Biggs dead, Mr. Harry Slutter, Mr. Chris Kern, Mr. Tom Hillman, Mr. Jeremiah Moffitt critically injured, Mr. Jeff Pierce, and Mr. Cole Joiner with minor injuries. 

A mountain rescue operation was initiated, the injured survivors extricated from the crevasse and transported to area hospitals. 

The Clackamas County Sheriffs Office lead the rescue operation, the Sheriff Office CRAFT unit was tasked to investigate the deaths of these three men. 

At the time of this incident it was full daylight conditions, the sky reported to be clear, an occasional light wind, the temperature at about freezing. 

At the Timberline lodge, 08:00 AM, the temperature 52 F, average wind speed 9 mph 330 degrees 

This incident occurred in the 10, 900 Ft elevation area, snow surface conditions were reported as frozen, crampons required, good purchase by step climbing in the snow. 


The involved climbing route is the most popular and most used route to ascend the mountain. 

Typically climbers are transported by snow cat up the flank of the mountain from the Timberline Lodge area to above the Palmer glacier and ski lift, where the climb is started around midnight. 

This allows for reaching the summit around daybreak and descending back to the lower area prior to the snow surface warming up and becoming less stable. 

The time period of May to mid July is popular to make this climb to " minimize exposure to crevasses, avalanches, rock fall and ice fall." 

The climb is more of a steep hike, usually not requiring crampons until reaching the 8,500 foot level. 

Upon reaching a ridge line named the Hog Back climbers rope up and if not already having done so begin to use ice axes. 

Following the ridge line, a crevasse named the Bergschrund at about 10,800 foot is reached. 

At the time of this incident the Bergschrund was visible, there was a snow bridge across it, some climbers were choosing to cross over the snow bridge, some to detour around it. 

Above the Bergschrund is the steepest part of this climb, continuing upward thru a steep gully, several outcroppings of rock named "The Pearly Gates" and then a short ascent to the summit of the mountain, the high point 11, 239 feet. 


At 08:30 AM there were climbers both ascending and descending the mountain along this route. 

A team of 4 were on their way down, leading the way Mr. Harry Slutter, about 35 feet above him Mr. Chris Kern, about 35 feet above Mr. Kern, Mr. Rick Read and about 35 feet above Mr. Read, Mr. Bill Ward. 

All four had reached the top, and after a rest break were descending, of the four the most experience climbers were Harry Slutter and Chris Kern, Mr. Ward an active climber with less experience, and Mr. Read on his first climb, they were using a red rope. 

Ahead of this 4 man group, also descending was a 2 man team, Thomas Hillman and John Biggs . 


Mr. Hillman and Mr. Biggs had also successfully ascended the mountain and were on their way down, Mr. Hillman leading, they were using a purple rope, about 50 feet apart. 

The distance between these two and the 4 above could only be given by witness(s) in time, about 15 minutes between Biggs and Hillman starting down from the summit and the 4 men team then following. 

Both of these men had previous climbing experience, Mr. Hillman climbing for many years, Mr. Biggs apparently with about 2 years of experience. 

Mr. Hillman later indicated that he was not comfortable using his ice ax like a walking stick to descend, facing down hill. 

He drove the point of his ax into the snow, used it as an anchor, stepped down, and then repeated his actions. 

Other climbers indicated that he and Mr. Biggs faced the snow surface and went down the mountain like they came up, a little different, but as effective as the other method. 

Mr. Hillman indicated that at one point Mr. Biggs slipped, and as Hillman prepared to go into the arrest position Biggs caught himself, sliding about 10 feet before getting back in control. 

As these two groups descended down the mountain, climbing up was a group of climbers from the Tualatin Valley Fire Department, split into 2 teams, also roped up. 

The first team, ascending was led by Mr. Jeff Pierce, about 15 to 20 feet behind him Mr. Cole Joiner, 15 to 20 feet behind him Mr. Jeremiah Moffitt. 

The second team following them, also roped up, was led by Mr. Dennis Butler about 20 feet behind him Ms. Selena Maestas, about 20 feet behind her Mr. Cleve Joiner and about 20 feet behind him Mr. Chad Hashbarger . 

Mr. Pierce's team had reached the crevasse, and detoured to the left around it, Pierce leading them back toward the ridge in a curving line. 

Mr. Pierce was about 40 feet above the crevasse, Cole Joiner about 30 feet above it and Jeremiah Moffitt about 20 feet above it. 

On the down hill side of the crevasse, in line with the Hog Back, Mr. Butler leading his team, was about 5 feet below it. 

Mr. Butler later said that he was pausing to give Pierce's team a few minutes to get back on the ridge before Butler's group begin the detour around the crevasse. 

At this time the two highest climbers of the involved parties, Bill Ward and Rick Read, lost their footing and fell. 

This happened very fast, Chris Kern said that he saw a blur in his field of vision, it happened so fast that he did not remember any verbal warning from the falling climbers. 

Mr. Kern went into the arrest position as soon as he saw the blur, but the weight of the other two climbers pulled him right off the mountain. 

Mr. Ward would have fell a distance of about 70 feet to Kerns position, Mr. Read about 35 feet, then these two would have went another 35 feet lower passed Kern, where the slack in the rope was taken up. 

Mr. Kern was pulled from his arrest position by the weight of the two men and their velocity built up in this distance. 

Mr. Slutter, as Mr. Kern, detected a flash of color in his field of vision and threw himself on the opposing side of the ride line, going into the arrest position. 

The 3 falling climbers went by him, now Mr. Ward having traveled about 140 feet to where the slack in Slutter's rope was taken up, Mr. Read about 105 feet and Mr. Kern about 70 feet, the velocity of these three increasing with distance was sufficient to pull Mr. Slutter right out of his arrest position. 

All four continued down to Mr. John Biggs and Mr. Thomas Hillman. 

Mr. Hillman later said he heard someone yell " falling " and looking up he saw one of the falling climbers collide with Biggs, knocking Biggs off the mountain, turning him over in a somersault. 

Mr. Hillman said that he went into the arrest position, as he saw a red rope go over his purple rope, and knew that with the 50 feet between him and Biggs the falling climbers would have that 50 feet and then passing him another 50 feet before he felt the load on the rope. 

Mr. Hillman said the weight hit him and his ice ax embedded in the snow in front of him acting like a plow as he was pulled down the mountain, watching the snow and ice thrown out from the " V " his ice ax was making. 

As the approximate distance between the initial group of 4 at the top, and Hillman and Biggs below them is not known, Mr. Bill Ward as the very top climber, would have fallen over 240 feet by this point. 

Mr. Jeff Pierce said that he heard someone yell out something, he was not sure what, and looking up he saw two climbers falling, who or in what order he could not say. 

When he realized they were not stopping and continued falling right at his team, he yelled out to the two below him to " move right " to get them out of the way. 

Mr. Pierce said that he went into the arrest position and the falling climbers went by him very fast, he was then pulled out of his position when the climbers collided with Cole Joiner and Jeremiah Moffitt below him, tangled up in Pierce's rope and all continued falling. 

Mr. Pierce said that he remembered being pulled into the crevasse, striking the downhill wall and stopping. 

Mr. Cole Joiner said that his team, led by Pierce, had went around the crevasse, and started back toward the climbing route. 

Pierce was about 40 feet above the crevasse, Cole about 30 feet and Moffitt about 20 feet above it. 

Mr. Joiner said that he thought he could remember someone yelling out " fall " and looked up and saw a mass of bodies sliding toward his group. 

Mr. Joiner said that there was one person leading the falling climbers, sitting up in a glissade position, the rest spinning and colliding with each other, all of this occurring very quickly. 

Mr. Joiner said that he tried to run out of the way, but Moffitt had dug in, and Joiner was yanked back when he ran to the end of his section of rope. 

Mr. Joiner said that he then went into the arrest position, the falling climbers collided with both Moffitt and him, knocking Joiner from his self arrest position. 

Mr. Joiner said that he was dragged into the crevasse and landed on a ledge. 

Mr. Jeremiah Moffitt said that his group had went around the crevasse, and were going back on the Hog Back when he heard some one yell out " falling." 

Moffitt immediately dropped down into the arrest position, looked up and saw the blur of some one sliding right at him, put his head down and was hit. 

Losing consciousness, he awakened in the crevasse. 

Investigating this incident, I interviewed each of the surviving climbers, reviewed reports generated by the Clackamas County Sheriff Office Search and Rescue Team, the State Medical Examiners Office, Clackamas County Medical Examiners Office, and reports made by various news media agencies. 

I contacted and interviewed experts in the field of alpine mountain climbing, several with experience climbing Mt. Hood, and manufacture representatives of equipment utilized in this incident. 

I attempted to locate climbers not involved in the actual incident that were on the mountain and in the same area at the time of the fall and witnessed the entire event. 

As of this date none have come forward but there were many climbers that arrived on site after the event occurred and assisted with the rescue and have provided statements to me. 

As their information does not assist in determining the facts of the initial fall, I have not documented their statements. 

I examined equipment utilized by the climbers, both for defects, lack of preparation, and use of intoxicants, all with negative results. 

(Please refer to the very last page of this report for the most up to date conclusion as a new eye witness was interviewed on 8-13-02) 

On 05/30/2002 Mr. Bill Ward, Mr. Richard Read, Mr. Christopher Kern and Mr. Harry Slutter successfully summated Mount Hood and were in the process of descending back down the mountain to Timberline Lodge. 

The order of descent was Mr. Slutter, Mr. Kern, Mr. Read, and Mr. Ward. 

All four were properly equipped for the climb, in good physical condition, none were under the influence of intoxicants. 

Mr. Slutter in the lead climbing down, had considerable experience in alpine mountain climbing, as did Mr. Kern behind him. 

Mr. Ward in the trail position also had experience in alpine mountain climbing. 

Mr. Read was on his first alpine climb, he was in good health, and the team of 4 had spent considerable time practicing climbing techniques prior to starting up Mt. Hood, until Mr. Read demonstrated proficiency, he had no problems on the climb up the mountain to the summit. 

Snow conditions at the time of this incident were reported by the majority of witnesses to have been ideal for climbing. 

For unknown reasons, one or both of the top two descending climbers, Mr. Ward and Mr. Read, lost their footing, and fell. 

Their combined weight and falling velocity was sufficient to pull Mr. Kern and Mr. Slutter from their arrest positions, crampons into the snow surface ice ax hammered into the snow surface, chest over ax, both hands on the ax. 

Mr. Biggs and Mr. Hillman were below them; Mr. Biggs apparently not aware they were falling was struck by one or more of the four, knocking him completely into the air and more than likely injuring him badly at this point. 

These six falling climbers continued down the mountain, Mr. Hillman not struck, but attached to Biggs on their rope and being pulled with such force due to the weight and velocity of the others, that the wrist strap on Mr. Hillman's ice ax was pulled apart, the material tearing. 

These six falling climbers then collided with both Mr. Moffitt and Mr. Cole, their two ropes tangling with the rope used by Moffit, Cole, and Pierce. 

Though Mr. Pierce was not struck, this entanglement pulled him into the crevasse as the others fell in. 

Due to the darkness in the crevasse, injuries of the climbers and the need to give aid to the survivors, there is some confusion about the order of climbers at their respective final rest positions. 

From the top of the crevasse down, it appears that Mr. Pierce and Mr. Moffitt were on the same level, lower down in the crevasse Mr. Ward and Mr. Joiner, then going further down Mr. Biggs, Mr. Slutter, Mr. Hillman, Mr. Kern and Mr. Read at the very bottom. 

This investigation has determined that no crimes have occurred in the deaths of Mr. Ward, Mr. Biggs and Mr. Read. 

There was no evidence of recklessness on the part of any of the involved climbers, all were utilizing the proper equipment and established climbing practices to make this climb and each one of them practiced self arrest, rope use, and other climbing methods prior to starting their ascent of the mountain. 

I request case clearance by exception. 


On 08/13/2002 at about 09:00 AM, Dr. Pennington contacted me in regards to the Mt. Hood Climbing accident that had occurred on May30th, 2002. 

Dr. Pennington, his son Luke, and his daughter Laurissa had summated Mt. Hood and were in the process of descending when they witnessed the incident unfolding below them. 

I had identified Dr. Pennington as a possible witness via a news article on this incident, in which a statement by the doctor was published; Dr. Pennington was on vacation and not available for contact until today, August 13, 2002. 

At about 09:30 AM I contacted Luke Pennington by telephone at his residence, obtaining his statement for this report also. 

Dr. Pennington ( Witness ) said that on 05/30/2002 he and his two children, Luke Pennington and Laurissa Pennington had climbed to the top of Mt. Hood. 

While on the summit one of the team of 4, composed of Mr. Harry Slutter, Mr. Chris Kern, Mr. Rick Read and Mr. Bill Ward, used Dr. Pennington's camera to take several photographs of Dr. Pennington and his two children. 

Dr. Pennington said he did not remember any of the team of fours names, nor what they were wearing, besides the photos they really did not have very much contact with the four. 

Dr. Pennington said that this group started down the mountain first, then Dr. Pennington and his two children. 

Dr. Pennington said that descending first in his group was Luke Pennington, then Laurissa Pennington and Dr. Pennington last. 

Dr. Pennington said that his team was out of the Pearly Gates and were about 20 yards behind or higher on the mountain, above this group . 

Dr. Pennington said that at this time, he could not remember if it was four or three climbers below him, but did recall remarking to his son Luke that this group was going straight down toward the crevasse, there were several climbing teams lower then them, and it would be better if they had traversed toward the side, so they were not kicking debris and such on the lower climbers, and not meeting the ones coming up. 

Dr. Pennington ( Witness ) said that the team below the Pennngtons was " short roped " close together and pretty much in line with the Bergschrund crevasse, but there was visible slack in the rope between each of these climbers. 

Dr. Pennington was looking at his son, when he thought he heard someone yelling falling. 

Dr. Pennington the looked at the team below his and saw the top climber falling, the others of the group going into good self arrest positions. 

Dr. Pennington said that the falling climber started accelerating down the mountain across the ice, and did not appear to be doing much to stop his slide. 

He then jerked the other members of his team out of their self - arrest positions when his rope tightened and in a domino type action they hit the next team of two below them, all continued down into the next team, and all vanished into the crevasse. 

Dr. Pennington said this all happened in about 3 to 4 seconds, and he could not remember what the top climber who fell first was wearing, nor what he looked like. 

Dr. Pennington said that it was a shock to his son and daughter to watch all of this, and then have to descend down the same route also. 

They took a considerable amount to descend to the scene, being very careful, and once arriving at the crevasse, Dr. Pennington said that the paramedics involved had already set up a rope rescue system, and pulled several injured climbers out. 

Dr. Pennington said that he helped with the triage and treating the injured. 

He did not talk to any of them about the fall, how it started, or why and he did not remember anyone at the rescue scene making any comments about it. 

Mr. Luke Pennington ( Witness ) said that he had reached the summit of Mt. Hood with his dad and his sister, the team of climbers that first fell were also there. 

One of them took a couple of pictures of the Pennington family on the summit, but that was about the only contact the Penningtons had with the subjects. 

Mr. Luke Pennington said that he could not remember if there were 4 or 3 of them, what they looked like, or what they were wearing. 

Mr. Luke Pennington ( Witness ) said that this group started down the mountain before his family did. 

Mr. Luke Pennington said that when his family started climbing down, the order of descent was first Luke, then his sister Laurissa Pennington, and then Dr. Pennington. 

Mr. Luke Pennington said that his family was thru the Pearly Gates and about one half way down the area of mountain between the Pearly Gates, and the Bergschrund crevasse. 

Mr. Pennington said that the mountain surface was icy, steep, no wind that he could remember, and this other team was about 20 to 30 yards lower down the mountain below him. 

The top climber of this team was the nearest to Mr. Pennington as they all were in a straight line, he was facing east, this climber appeared to Mr. Pennington to be trying to turn around to put his left foot lower down the mountain side. 

Mr. Luke Pennington said that he cant remember if the climber yelled out " falling ", as the man fall while trying to turn around, Mr. Pennington seeing all of this as it occurred. 

Mr. Pennington said that the climber fell onto his back, head toward the bottom of the mountain, and he started sliding down hill. 

His fellow team members went into the self arrest position, and it looked to Mr. Pennington that the sliding climber was not attempting to self arrest, just sliding, and going faster and faster. 

Mr. Pennington said that the force of his falling body pulled the other team members out of their self arrest positions and they all continued down to the next climbing team of two that had been blow them. 

Mr. Pennington said that when they hit these two the larger group " clothes lined " them with their rope, pulling them out of their climbing positions. 

This now larger group of falling climbers continued down, and then struck the next group in line below, and all of them then went into the crevasse. 

Mr. Pennington said that this all happened in maybe 3 to 5 seconds and all of them vanished from his view. 

Mr. Luke Pennington said that he and his sister and father then climbed down to the rescue scene and helped with the injured. 

Mr. Luke Pennington ( Witness ) said that he did not remember anyone talking about who fell first, how it happened, nothing like that while he was at the crevasse site. 

Request that this report be included with case clearance report dated 08/07/2002, the following facts revealed by the new witness(s). 

On 05/30/2002 a team of 4 climbers was descending from the summit of Mt. Hood, in order from the lead climber in the lowest position to the trailing climber in the highest position on the mountain, Mr. Harry Slutter, Mr. Chris Kern, Mr. Rick Read, and Mr. Bill Ward. 

Mr. Bill Ward attempted to turn around while descending, apparently intending to place is left foot lower on the mountain. 

In doing this he lost his purchase on the ice and fell, landing on his back and sliding head first down the mountain. 

The other three climbers of his team went into an arrest position, but were not able to halt Mr. Ward's slide, his momentum pulling the other three out of their positions and starting the chain of events that caused all of the involved groups to come to rest in the Bergschrund Crevasse. 

Witness Mr. Luke Pennington states that Mr. Ward when attempting to reposition himself was not acting in a reckless or careless manner. 

I again request case clearance by exception, no crime has occurred.


DATE: 08/13/2002
CASE NUMBER: 2002 - 20264 
CONNECT NUMBER: 2002 - 22807 2002 - 22808 
CLASSIFICATION: Death Investigation 
REPORT REGARDING: Supplemental To Clearance Report

( 1 ) Ward, William Gordon ( Deceased ) 
( 2 ) Read, Richard Thomas ( Deceased ) 
( 3 ) Biggs, John Alvin ( Deceased ) 

Slutter, Harry ( Injured Climber )
Kern, Christopher ( Injured Climber )
Hillman, Thomas ( Injured Climber ) 
Moffitt, Jeremiah ( Injured Climber ) 
Joiner, Cole ( Minor Injury - Climber ) 
Pierce, Jeff ( Climber - Not Injured ) 
Butler, Dennis ( Climber - Witness )

Dr. James William Pennington ( Witness ) 
Luke McKinley Pennington ( Witness )

For more information contact: Deputy Angela Blanchard / Public Information Officer



Analysis of this tragic incident by Robert Speik
The primary purpose of these experience reports is to aid in the prevention of accidents.

Analysis from Robert Speik
Experience tells us that there are several observations that should be made following a careful reading of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Criminalist's Report transcribed above. In the expectation that these observations might help avoid similar incidents on Mount Hood or other snow clad peaks, I offer them here.

Incidents like this tragedy on Mount Hood, are not just "accidents". There are traditional mountaineering techniques that mitigate common mountain climbing risks. These techniques can be taught. These techniques can be learned. 

1. Steep snow slopes demand respect. Steep snow slopes hold dangers that are hidden to the uninformed. Falling on a steep hard snow slope is like falling off a cliff of similar elevation, the speed of falling only slowed slightly by the friction of clothing and gear. The falling climber accelerates to maximum velocity in moments. Experience tells us that simply sitting on angled hard snow can lead to a catastrophic slide in moments. Try this yourself on a short steep slope of hard snow with a clear run out.

2. Adhesion to the snow from boots alone is related to the kicked steps in the snow. If the boot sole is soft, the boot may not be kicked forcefully into the snow. Also, the sole may bend, contributing to sliding out of the snow step as the boot is weighted. Sometimes, only the hard edge of the boot can be kicked into hard snow. Crampons, properly used, can mitigate this risk (and crampons were worn in this case).

3. Crampons, properly used can improve adhesion to the hard snow slope. Steps need not be kicked into the slope. Crampons for steep snow slopes must be fitted properly to stiff soled boots. They must be attached so that they are not loose and will not come off.  In soft snow conditions, care must be taken to avoid snow balling up under the boot and preventing the crampon points from touching the snow. Snow balling under the boot can grow to several inches in certain conditions (and this was not the case here). Anti-balling plastic accessories may help. The traditional way is to clear the snow with a blow from the long shaft of the mountaineering ice axe. Special crampons can be fitted to certain trail shoes for use under ideal conditions on the consolidated snows of summer.

4. A traditional long mountaineering ice axe is the tool used to stop a slide before the almost instant acceleration makes stopping impossible. This technique is called "self belay". The shaft of the axe is pushed as deeply as possible into the snow, one hand on the head of the axe, the other hand grasping the shaft at the shear line next to the snow. Typical use of this technique would occur if ones feet slipped down slope, enabling a fall to the chest with both hands in proper self belay position on the axe. 

This self belay technique must be practiced many times, over time to become automatic.

5. A static ice axe "self arrest" position is always taught and is not hard to learn. But there is much more to learn and practice. A traditional mountaineering ice axe is used for a dynamic self arrest, easy in soft snow on a forgiving slope, all but impossible on hard snow. The traditional climber learns to self arrest with either hand (the axe must be in whichever is the uphill hand at the moment) from head down on chest or back, from feet down on chest or back or sideways on either side. These techniques must be applied automatically, without conscious thought, and can be effective on steep slopes only after a lot of practice under the informed and helpful eye of an instructor or knowledgeable mentoring companion.

If the axe is held in the self belay grasp, (palm on the adze) it will have to be changed to the self arrest grasp (thumb under the adze), automatically, without conscious thought. On appropriate practice slopes, not too steep and in softer snow with a safe runout, one can learn and practice the instant arrest responses required. One can not learn these techniques well in an afternoon class, on the day before a climb. Traditional mountaineers reinforce these automatic skills at the start of every season.

6. The hardness or softness of the snow surface of a steep snow slope is a critical factor. Countless incidents have occurred on hard snow slopes. Conversely, if the snow is too soft the ice axe is useless and the snow will simply give way under the weight of the climber and the climber will slip away, perhaps becoming airborne and bouncing and tumbling like a rag doll to the bottom of a long steep slope. The experienced climber can understand the risks of the condition of the snow at the moment - it can change to a hard surface in the shadows to quickly softening as the sun rises in the morning. (The climbers were faced with very hard "frozen" snow on the cold early spring morning. Conditions were clearly very technical demanding the utmost respect. However, photos show sun softened, more forgiving snow just a short time later, under the rescuers boots.)

The snow is very hard if the spike and shaft can not be pushed into the snow more than an inch or two. The snow is very soft if the spike and shaft can be pushed all the way in and levered out. Snow is an ever changing medium. Snow safe to climb before dawn can become a deadly trap after the sun touches it for only a few minutes. (Several deaths have occurred on Mount Hood because of softening snow on the notorious Cooper Spur route.)

If a climber is not comfortable with the condition of the snow and their own abilities, techniques and motivations, the climber must speak up and perhaps climb another day. There are several traditional techniques to deal with this imperative including return to a safe waiting place or to the trailhead with an experienced companion.

7. The experienced climbers faced the slope in direct descent down the fall line with the axe in the stake position in the traditional mountaineering technique described on page 325, of Mountaineering, The Freedom of The Hills, 7th edition. (The snow was very hard. The experienced climbers were "uncomfortable facing out. . .". This face in technique is common and safer and not "different". Perhaps the first man to fall was changing to this much safer direct descent facing in with the axe and hands in the self belay/self arrest position. It appears he toppled over head first down hill. He should not have been in a position to have had this happen.)

If the snow is too hard to allow the spike and shaft to penetrate more than an inch or two, the traditional long mountaineering ice axe can be safely used in the banister technique described by Yvon Chouinard on page 81 of his landmark 1978 book Climbing Ice. The pick is driven into the hard snow with a strong blow of the axe, shaft down the fall line. This allows a step or two down (facing in using the safest traditional position), with a hand on the shaft of the anchored ice axe.

8. On the ascent, the strongest, most experienced climber should be first, the less experienced should be last. These rope positions should be reversed on the descent. (It does not appear this traditional mountaineering technique was used.) The uppermost climber must not fall. If the uppermost climber must change position, he must communicate to the climbers below and they must position themselves so as to avoid and belay the possible falling climber. (This does not appear to have been accomplished.)

9. A climber using traditional techniques can hold a lower companion's slip easily with one hand provided the rope is managed with minimum slack. Even a short fall from above increases the force of a fall dramatically.  A climber in basic self arrest position, typically with the rope running under his chest, can be jerked easily from his position as the upper person flies by or strikes him directly with crampons. (This occurred in this incident.) 

A lead climber (or a follower above, on a down climb) can be belayed quickly, out of the fall line, with the use of any of several simple mountaineering ice axe and rope techniques as described in Freedom of the Hills, 7th Edition, Chapter 16. The upper climber must ask the belaying climber to belay and watch for a fall. (This did not occur.)

10. Experience tells us that traditional mountaineers do not stay in the fall line of other climbers. There are many climbing lines that can be taken above the Mount Hood Bergschrund. A rope team can climb in echelon with no one directly above another team member. Of course, climbers can wait for others to complete the fall line crux sections. Traditionally, climbers should ask those descending above to "hold" while they complete the section below and move away from the fall line. (This traditional imperative was not respected.)

11.  Haste, and a feeling of having to keep up, has caused many incidents. Communication and team awareness mitigate this contributing factor to many incidents.

12. Taking all of the above into consideration, the traditional mountaineering imperative is Do Not Fall. Dr. Pennington's rope team "took a considerable amount (of time) to descend to the scene, being very careful, ..."  

In my opinion, the failure of all the climbers to mitigate the common traditional mountaineering risks on that day, caused this tragic incident and caused the crash of the rescue helicopter.
--Robert Speik

Copyright© 2004 -2009 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.

Note: In the mid 1980s, Robert Speik was Chair for three years of the Mountaineering Training Committee (MTC) of the Sierra Club's large Angeles Chapter in Southern California. The Committee was responsible for the training up to 1,000 people per year in Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Training. Bob Speik edited the MTC Staff Handbook in 1985, writing the chapter on technical Snow Climbing. Recently, he has conducted class room and field classes in several mountaineering subjects for Central Oregon Community College in Bend Oregon. --Margaret Thompson Speik


The Rest of the Story

Climbers successfully summit Mount Hood year after accident
The Olympian, Olympia Washington
Saturday, May 31, 2003

A yearlong journey of sorrow and doubt ended in five minutes Friday as survivors of a deadly climbing accident stood together on the summit of Mount Hood and silently released handfuls of yellow rose petals into the wind.

One year ago, the same group was struggling for survival after three of its members were swept into an ice crevasse by climbers above them who lost their footing and tumbled downhill. Of the nine people pulled into the 25-foot deep hole, three died and three were seriously injured. A helicopter later crashed during a dramatic rescue attempt captured on live television.

But on Friday, the focus was on the present -- and on completing a challenge the group set for themselves months ago.

"It was awesome," said Selena Maestas, who reached the summit for the first time. "I can't even describe it -- just the fact that I made it and made it safely is so wonderful."

The mountain did not temper its mood for the climbers, who from the first minutes encountered rain, fog, wind and thunder that seemed to shadow the group as they moved up the slope.

After a 3 a.m. start, the party hiked with headlamps to Crater Rock, where the menacing storm swept in. Lightning pierced the sky around them, and thunder rumbled everywhere. The climbers had planned to pause at the crevasse about 800 feet from the summit to remember the dead but had to hurry past because of the weather.

At the summit, it got worse. By the time the climbers arrived at 7:21 a.m., thick clouds surrounded the mountain and visibility had dropped to 10 feet. Electricity from the hovering storm made the air hum with static -- so much so that the climbers' ice axes and metal stakes began to vibrate.

"The static electricity at the summit was kind of freaky," said Cole Joiner, 15, who suffered minor injuries when he fell into the crevasse last year.

The group decided to spend only five minutes on the summit. Exhausted after such a short rest, they began the downhill trek.

"It was all about that thunder cell," said Jeff Pierce, the team's leader who summited the mountain for his 24th time Friday.

The group did manage to read a poem, "The Mountains Are Calling," by Denes Eszenyi, and scatter rose petals at the request of the dead climbers' family members.

For Jeremiah Moffitt, a 27-year-old firefighter, success was a relief. Moffitt, the worst-injured climber to reattempt the climb, suffered a crushed hand, bruised ribs, neck and
back and a concussion in the accident.

Moffitt was in the aerial stretcher waiting to be lifted into the helicopter when it suddenly lost altitude and crashed. One of the helicopter's crew detached the cable just before it went down, likely saving his life. None of the crew was killed, but several had serious injuries.

"I love doing this outdoor stuff, and I had a lot of fun up there today," Moffitt said. "I got a little knot in my stomach, but I wasn't as nervous as I expected. Hey, I'm shooting 50 percent."


Analysis of this "Anniversary Climb":  I am speechless!
The following basic common sense knowledge about lightening danger is quoted from the August 2, 2004 weekly Trail Tips written by Ranger Chris Sabo for the Bend-Ft. Rock District of the Deschutes National Forest.

Of course exposure to lightning is another threat to outdoor users this time of year! A few points to keep in mind regarding lightning are: each year some 100 people are killed by lightning in the US with many more being injured lightning (though not always) tends to more often strike taller or more prominent objects like trees, ridges and mountain tops, and rock outcroppings and people that hang out in these areas during a storm also at higher risk are: boaters, swimmers, fisher peoples and activities in and around open water and people in open areas like meadows and other clearing metal objects i.e.. power poles/lines, ladders, antennas, cameras, metal frame backpacks and bicycles also attract lightning.


If you find yourself in the unfortunate (though it can be very spectacular) position of being caught in a thunderstorm of close proximity, a few things you can do to reduce your chances of being struck are:
1. get down from high points such as mountain and ridge tops;  
2. avoid being near tall prominent trees or other objects that stand out
3. separate yourself from metal like metal framed backpacks, avoid all metal objects (unless in a vehicle)
4. avoid being in open areas, but if no choice try to crouch down without
5. touching the ground anymore than you have to i.e.. with only your feet
6. touching the ground; some lightning safety information reads lie down flat
7. avoid close contact with others - spread out 15-20 ft. apart avoid water
8. seek shelter in a building or vehicle

For more info on lightning safety seek websites like:




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

Read more . . .
American Alpine Club
Oregon Section of the AAC
Accidents in North American Mountaineering

Notable accidents revisited 
What about climbing Mount Hood? 
Photos of an ice axe arrest practice seminar
How to Travel over steep snow
Learning to climb steep hard snow slopes  5 pdf pages
Learning roped travel and ice axe arrest
South Sister spring climb for gear and techniques
Mount Shasta - slip on hard snow

Ten high altitude deaths on Everest confirmed for 2006 climbing season
On Being and Becoming a Mountaineer: an Essay
Climbing Mount Hood in April with Arlene Blum and friends
AAC Report - Accident on Mount Washington ends with helicopter rescue
AAC Report - Fatal fall from Three Finger Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness
Three Finger Jack - OSU student falls on steep scree slope
Mount Huntington's West Face by Coley Gentzel ©2005 by AAI. All Rights Reserved
Climber dies on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Warning!! **Climbers swept by avalanche while descending North Sister's Thayer Glacier Snowfield
Mt. Whitney's East Face Route is quicker!
Mt. Whitney's Mountaineer's Route requires skill and experience
Report: R.J. Secor seriously injured during a runaway glissade
    Mount Rainer . . . eventually, with R.J. Secor by Tracy Sutkin
Warning!! ** Belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope
Runaway glissade fatal for Mazama climber on Mt. Whitney
Sierra Club climb on Middle Palisade fatal for Brian Reynolds
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on a second accident in 2004
Notable mountain climbing accidents analyzed 
Mount Washington - Report to the American Alpine Club on the recent fatal accident
Mount Washington - "Oregon tragedy claims two lives"
Mount Jefferson - two climbers rescued by military helicopter
North Sister - climbing with Allan Throop

Mount Hood - Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - climbing accident claims three lives -Final Report and our Analysis 
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Mount Hood - Solo climber slides into the Bergschrund and is found the following day
Mount Hood - Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Mount Hood - Solo climber slides into the Bergschrund and is found the following day
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
Mount Hood - a personal description of the south side route
Mount Hood - fatal avalanche described by Climbing Ranger
Mount Hood - avalanche proves fatal for members of Mazamas climbing group
Mount Hood - snowboard rider dies on Cooper Spur
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow, Cooper Spur Route
Mount Hood - fatal fall on snow from the summit
Mount Hood - climb shows the need for knowledge
Mount Hood - climb ends in tragedy
Mount Hood - rescue facilitated by use of a VHF radio