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Fallen solo climber rescued on Mount Thielsen, Oregon, saved by chance encounter

Purpose and Description: The primary purpose of these reports and the Annual Report of Accidents in North American Mountaineering is to aid in the prevention of accidents.

Solo climber on Mt. Thielsen rescued by chance encounter after he was injured in fall from summit blocks

On Friday, June 25, 2010, Tristan Massie, (40), visiting Oregon from Maryland, was free solo climbing the spectacular talus of the class four summit of Mount Thielsen when he slipped, fell about 20 feet striking volcanic blocks and then sliding about 50 feet on the steep snow field below the summit.

Tristan lay on the snow with a dislocated shoulder and shattered ankle, unable to move more than a few feet, for the the remainder of the day on Friday, when he heard a climber crossing the remote snowfield late in the afternoon. He was just barely able to attract the climber's attention.

Tristan had left his cell phone in his summit pack, stashed near his hiking boots at the foot of his proposed rock climb to the summit. The lone climber, Stewart Slay, had a cell phone and called 911 for Search and Rescue assistance at 5:07 pm. Tristan was lying directly on the snow, lightly clad and wearing climbing shoes, under the threat of frost bite and hypothermia. Time passed and it grew very cold and dark before the Douglas County Sheriff's Search and Rescue team could be mobilized and reach the snow covered slopes and the two climbers at 12:30 am. During the night, Tristan was lowered down the steep scree slope north west of the summit to easier ground, where, at about 10 am Saturday, he was hoisted up into an Oregon National Guard helicopter and flown to St. Charles Hospital in Bend, Oregon.

Analysis of Accident: What knowledge and techniques will help prevent further accidents?
Experience tells us to climb new summits with known companions. From Maryland, Tristan had scheduled a guided climb of some Cascades peaks near Bend, but remaining snow fields had put the peaks out of reasonable reach for the guided group. Mount Thielsen was suggested as a lower easy peak. A strong long-distance runner, (his wife, Tammy, competes in 100 mile ultra-runs), he reached the summit blocks in just four hours from the trail head despite drifts of snow on the trail and the large soft steep snow field below the summit. Local experience tells us that few people climb Mount Thielsen this early in the summer.

Tammy Massie notes that Tristan did not carry his cell phone in a warm pants pocket, or their SPOT-2 "GPS satellite communicator" and that he did not have a topo map of Mount Thielsen. He did not have a helmet, usually required when bagging peaks in the Oregon Cascades. He did not have Essentials for an emergency. Rather than carrying his small summit pack on the scramble, he had left it at the base of the rock face with his boots. He was unable to reach his summit pack, boots and cell phone or his larger pack which, however, did not have gear for a stranding overnight in the forecast conditions. He might not have survived the night, lying lightly dressed in tight climbing shoes directly on the snow in subzero temperatures and summit winds, without his chance encounter with Stewart Slay.

We have confirmed that Tristan had not set a specific time for a designated Responsible Person to call 911, if he did not check in or answer his cell phone. Tammie Massie states: "Unfortunately in the case of Tristan's adventure in Oregon, I would only have called 911 on Sunday night when he did not get back on his flight."

From photos in his digital camera, we noted that Tristan was off the traditional route, climbing the north side rather than the easier south-west side of the summit talus blocks.

(Source: Robert Speik, following interviews with the Massies at St. Charles Hospital and Wayne A. Stinson of the Douglas County, Oregon, Sheriff's Search and Rescue Volunteer Unit
Report filed by Robert Speik for the 63rd annual edition of ANAM to be published in 2011
Copyright© 2010 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.


What can be learned from this event?

The primary purpose of our TraditionalMountaineering experience reports (and the purpose of the American Alpine Club's sixty-two published Annual Reports of Accidents in North American Mountaineering) is to "aid in the prevention of accidents".

Experience tells us to climb new summits with known companions. Take care to do research for the best route to the summit (for Thielsen, usually done in trail shoes, not rock shoes, on the south-side shortest-pitch to the summit). Be sure to agree with a designated Responsible Person, that they will call 911 at an agreed time, if you have not checked in. Keep an ordinary digital cell phone in your pants pocket. Most mountaineering accidents in the United States over the past few years, have been resolved by cell phone. Consider carrying a new SPOT-2 "Satellite GPS Messenger". A local summit may not be worth the loss of life or limb.
--Robert Speik



See yonder height! 'Tis far away -- unbidden comes the word "Impossible!"

"Not so," says the mountaineer.  "The way is long, I know; its difficult -- it may be dangerous."

"It's possible, I'm sure; I'll seek the way, take counsel of my brother mountaineers,
and find out how they have reached similar heights and learned to avoid the dangers."

He starts (all slumbering down below); the path is slippery and may be dangerous too. 
Caution and perseverance gain the day -- the height is reached! and those beneath cry, "Incredible! 'Tis superhuman!"

This is a passage we found on page 161 of "Scrambles Amongst the Alps" by Edward Wymper,
first published in 1871 and reprinted 1981 by Ten Speed Press, Berkley, CA.



What do the Rescuers say?

Rescuers: Man rescued from Mt. Thielsen was lucky
By Kathy Korengel
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Tristan Massie was lucky, say the search and rescue volunteers who rescued him from the top of Mount Thielsen Friday.

The skies were clear and it was relatively warm, said John Punches, the leader of the Douglas County Search and Rescue team that went to the aid of Massie, 40, of Maryland.

And another hiker, Stewart Slay, happened to be on the mountain the same day, said Wayne Stinson, the sheriff's office emergency manager.

Slay “barely heard” the call for help after Massie fell and badly sprained his ankle and dislocated his shoulder about 400 feet from the top of the 9,128-foot peak.

As of Monday afternoon, Massie was still at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Stinson said. Doctors had restored his shoulder and operated on his ankle.

Stinson said Slay called the 911 dispatch center at 5:07 pm Friday, after hearing Massie's calls for help. Members of the Search and Rescue team arrived at the trailhead about 8:15 p.m., Punches said. He and another team member, Cory Sipher, reached Massie by about 12:30 am.

They put him in a seat harness, such as one worn by rock climbers. With ropes attached to the harness, they worked together to belay Massie down the steep slope.

Partly to get him moving and to prevent hypothermia from setting in, they asked Massie to help by sliding over the loose rock and snow on his backside and using his good leg and good arm to guide himself.

Two hours later, they met up with two paramedics from Douglas County Fire District No. 2 and more Search and Rescue members who had carried up a rescue litter, similar to a stretcher.

Because of concern about Massie's ankle, they decided to ask a helicopter from an Oregon National Guard aviation unit from Salem to help take the Maryland man off the mountain, Stinson said.

The rescue team then continued down the mountain with Massie, reaching the Pacific Crest Trail at about 7,400 feet elevation at about 7:30 or 8 a.m. the next morning, Punches said.

The helicopter arrived at 10:15 a.m. Because there was no place big enough to land, the helicopter crew used a winch to raise Massie's litter to the helicopter. They headed off to St. Charles hospital at 10:47 a.m.

All told, 18 Search and Rescue members, two sheriff's deputies and the two paramedics responded, Stinson said. Members from most divisions of Search and Rescue, including from the mountain rescue and 4x4 divisions, responded. All are volunteers.

Volunteers with the Explorer program for 14- to 18-year-olds also helped, Punches said.

Punches, who has been on the Douglas County Search and Rescue team since 1995 and is an Oregon State University Extension Service forestry agent in the Douglas County office, said rescues on Mount Thielsen are amazingly rare.

He remembers one fatality when a woman camped at the summit as it was getting dark, but then fell. Another time, a man fell and injured himself and had to be flown out immediately.

Punches recalled two times he's helped people off the mountain by giving them directions over their cell phones. Both were summer rescues, when hikers unexpectedly ran into winter weather and whiteout conditions.

Punches advises hikers to be prepared for such unexpected conditions. Bring extra food, water, clothing, a map and a compass, he said. Bring a fully charged cell phone, although don't expect to be able to use it everywhere on the mountain.

Both Punches and Stinson suggest hikers climb the peak with others. Before you take off, tell someone where you're going and about when you expect to be back, Punches said.

When hikers are significantly late in returning, those left behind may call 911 for help. “Be reasonable,” he added.

“If hikers were expected back at 5 in the afternoon, and now it's midnight, that should be ringing some bells,” he said.


The rest of the story-

Hi Tammy-
Thanks for your email (earlier today). I was concerned that I had offended you (by my Report).

I think that Tristan is not a risk taker or a careless person. He is just un-informed of the traditional mitigations of the inherent risks of outdoor activities in the mountains.

Mitigating these inherent risks are the subject of traditional instruction given by major outdoor clubs in developed countries around the world (and in Maryland too, I'm sure).

Tommy, my wife of more than 60 years, never sought the summits but so enjoyed the Basic to Advanced instruction (30 evening hours and several week end training trips) that she participated fully (even though I was Chair for three years, for the Sierra Club's Mountaineering Training Committee, training 1,000 folks off the streets in Southern California, and often away on trips, bagging more than 300 peaks).

The premise of "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught" applies to you folks. It is fun to use the SPOT-2 to communicate - "Hi honey, I am OK and I am right here" -, etc. It is important to know that you should carry your summit pack to the summit, etc. It is enabling to know how to print and follow a 1:24,000 USGS Quad topo map, and find your exact location in UTM Coordinates (NAD27 Datum).

The standard textbook is "Mountaineering, The Freedom of the Hills", 7th edition. Other books mentioned on my web, (listed under Books ;-), can take your traditional knowledge to higher levels.

Guided trips often only train you to be a good follower, I think.

Read my Mission Statement and study my pertinent web pages!

Well, best of luck to both of you! Finish smart and finish first and climb smart and safe as possible.
--Bob Speik, and Tommy Speik too


"TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summiting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part identified and mitigated by information, training, interesting 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 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 mountaineering."

Good Evening (Bob),
I was not offended. I just am saddened that Tristan had to learn the lesson of safety "hands on" rather than by reading a book, article or detailed accident report about someone else.

I tend to be very risk adverse although one could say my 100 miler running has potential risks...but I mitigate them as best I can and all my training is in a safe environment and the actual races do keep runners relatively safe by having check points and weighing us, checking our mental status and ensuring we are eating/drinking and acting healthy.
Take care,


Climbing Mount Thielsen

Mount Thielsen is an accessible hike for many
By Mark Morical / The Bulletin
Published: August 29. 2010

I glanced up at the exposed rock spire that rose 80 feet straight up into the blue sky.

The decision was easy.

“Yeah,” I said. “Give me the rope.”

David Potter, of Central Oregon’s Smith Rock Climbing Guides, tied a rope around my waist, and Brett Yost took the rope and climbed up ahead of me to secure it above.

I began to climb the final pitch to the summit of 9,182-foot Mount Thielsen.

We had started just a couple hours earlier, from the Mount Thielsen Trailhead across state Highway 138 from Diamond Lake.

I had heard that Mount Thielsen was not as aerobically challenging as South Sister, which I had climbed twice before, but that some technical rock climbing was required to reach the summit.

Six of us started out from the trailhead last week on a brisk, sunny morning. Except for myself, all were experienced rock climbers, for which I would be grateful later on.

The hike — 9.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 3,782 feet — started out fairly flat through a dense lodgepole pine forest that would have been thicker still if not for an apparent storm that had recently blown through, upending many trees by their roots.

Eventually the trail, as it rises above the tree line, comes to a long ridgeline offering dramatic views. To the north, we could see the rugged green hills of the Umpqua National Forest, with the Three Sisters far in the distance.

To the south, the steep, rugged south rim of Crater Lake shot into the sky. Mount Bailey towered over Diamond Lake to the west.

Along the ridge, Thielsen came into view, and it looked even more impossible to climb than it did from the highway. How does one negotiate such a narrow tip of rock?

The west slope of Thielsen, typically covered in winter and springtime by snow, was nothing but a massive deposit of gray and red scree.

According to, a few hundred thousand years ago, Thielsen was a broad shield volcano similar to Mount Bailey. But heavy glaciation — including three ice ages without an eruption — has eroded Thielsen down to its spire summit. Also left behind are several unique formations of solidified magma, some resembling ancient European castles.

After four miles, the Mount Thielsen trail connects with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. From there, the trail changes from dirt to pumice, becoming steeper and steeper. Soon the pumice gives way to small to large pieces of shale — which made for slow going for our group of climbers.

As the shale pieces became larger, the trail became fainter. We chose our route carefully, checking rocks to make sure they were not loose, which could send us tumbling down the slope.

I began using my hands more and more as the route became even more precipitous.

Finally, we came to a comfortable resting spot below the 80-foot technical climb to the summit on the south face. We stopped for a while and enjoyed the views. The north side of Thielsen drops straight down, about 1,000 feet to the tiny Lathrop Glacier, Oregon’s southernmost glacier.

I was relieved that we had brought the rope.

Others made their way up to the summit before me with no problems. This was hardly rock climbing to them. The last 80 feet is considered Class 4 climbing, which means some might need a rope and others might not, according to Yost.

With me tied to the rope, Yost climbed up ahead and secured a “hip belay,” passing the rope around his waist and wedging himself between two solid rocks. This way, if I fell during the climb, he and the rocks would support my weight and I would fall back with nothing more than some rib pain from the rope around my waist riding up.

I could feel the rope support me as I climbed, much like a rock-climbing harness. The first part was not so bad. I found plenty of hand- and footholds, checking to make sure the rocks were not loose before grabbing on. I came into a crack in the rock, nearly got stuck, but worked my way out.

Suddenly, I reached a spot where I had to move to my left — but a huge boulder was in my face, and only a tiny spot on which to stand was available to the left. Below was a drop of 2,000 feet.

This was the crux of the 80-foot pitch.

For about 30 seconds I was paralyzed with fear, before I put my trust in the rope and Yost.

I placed my foot on the ledge, then found some handholds on the other side of the boulder, and I pulled my way up.

The rest was fairly easy, but I had to ask if I was actually at the top.


High-fives ensued.

The view from the summit was unsurpassed, but perhaps even more intriguing was the evidence of lightning strikes. According to, Thielsen is believed to be struck by lightning more than any other Cascade peak. Fulgurite — small, glassy burns caused by lightning — can be seen on rocks at the summit.

We needed just about three hours to reach the top, and we remained on the cramped summit for about 15 minutes — just the six of us occupied most of the space up there.

Coming down the summit pitch (tied to the rope once again) was easier, and I felt more confident.

But the hike down is always the hardest, and it put my knees to the test.

We negotiated our way down carefully. Eventually, we could “punch scree,” letting our shoes dip into the loose ground as we descended the steep slopes.

We were back at the trailhead by 2 p.m., making it a 5½-hour round trip. By contrast, I had needed eight hours to make it up and down South Sister.

Everyone seemed to love Thielsen, a climb that is relatively accessible to reasonably fit outdoor enthusiasts but is not swarmed by hundreds of climbers.

For those with limited rock-climbing experience, I strongly recommend going with experienced climbers who can secure others safely to a rope.

Otherwise, you might find yourself looking up at that craggy spire, just 80 feet from the summit, wishing you had that rope.




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

Summiting Mount Thielsen
Mount Thielsen exploratory climb
Mount Washington - Epic Accident Analyzed for the American Alpine Club
"Playing Icarus on Mount Washington" by Eric Seyler
North Sister - Summit accident analyzed for ANAM by Fitz Cahall

Fallen solo climber on Mount Thielsen, saved by chance encounter
Two climbers die in fall from Horsethief Butte Crags, WA
AAC Report: Smith Rock Leader fall turns climber upside down
Three climbers, their MLU and a dog rescued on Mt. Hood
Three North Face climbers lost on Mt. Hood
Family of five and exhausted Great Dane dog rescued from South Sister Climber's Trail
Climbing the Snow Creek Route on Mt. San Jacinto, California
Cheating death on the Snow Creek Route on Mt San Jacinto, California
A climb of Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness
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
Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur on Mount Hood
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
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
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

Smith Rock - Leader fall turns climber upside down
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - WARNING - top rope belay error
Smith Rock - Inadequate top rope belay
Smith Rock - Climber injured on the approach
Smith Rock - WARNING - belayer drops climber off the end of the top rope
Smith Rock - Novice sport climber injured
Smith Rock - Fall on rock, protection pulled out
Smith Rock - Fall on rock - poor position, inadequate protection
Smith Rock - Pulled rock off - fall on rock, failure to test holds, exceeding abilities
Smith Rock - Belay failure, fatal fall on rock

American Alpine Club's 2007 Annual Meeting in Bend Oregon
Smith Rock Detour Bouldering Contest and Reel Rock Tour
Redmond Fire Department rescues a senior hiker at Smith Rock
Smith Rock Spring Thing in 2006
Smith Rock Spring Thing 2006 volunteer's party at the Barn
HERA climb for life fundraiser at Smith Rock
HERA climb4life party at the Smith Rock Barn
American Alpine Club and Traditional Mountaineering build another rescue cache at Smith Rock
Smith Rock Spring Thing Improvements
Smith Rock Spring Thing 2004 Party!   
Smith Rock hiking in the spring
Smith Rock from above the Burma Road
Smith Rock rescue cache by AAC/ORS and TraditionalMountaineering
Smith Rock weekend
Smith Rock Monkey Face practice