"If anyone can find these guys, it’s them"
Whenever I have questions about climbing mountains, I ask my friend Doug for the true skinny. The three guys currently stuck on the north side of Mount Hood have raised some questions in my mind, and yesterday I asked Doug for his thoughts. Here is what he wrote back:
I don’t know much more about the actual facts and circumstances than has already been reported and continually updated in the various news media. Early December is not typically a good time to climb Hood, in part because what new snow there is has not had an opportunity to consolidate and in part because the weather is so unpredictable. As we know only so well from the OES student disaster ~15 years ago, even a group led by nominally experienced people on the “easy” side of the mountain during the “normal” Spring climbing season can get disoriented in a blizzard whiteout with tragic results. This group is on the more difficult and more isolated side of Hood and, apparently, none of them had ever climbed Hood before (though 14 Rainier ascents, plus European and South American ascents indicates a serious level of climbing experience). Although the reports indicate that they were traveling “light,” because they expected at least a couple nights out on the mountain (I understand that they left Wednesday (?) intending to carry over and be picked up on the other side on Friday) they would likely have had some gear including sleeping bags, bivy sacks or a tent, a stove and fuel, food, etc. Building a snow cave is smart because it is relatively warm and cuts the wind. Climbers have survived weeks in small snow caves near the summit of Denali where it is much, much colder. Unfortunately, the weather does not look particularly good for the foreseeable future, so the rescue efforts (mostly volunteers from groups like Portland Mountain Rescue where one of my checks goes every year) will have a tough time getting up to where the one injured climber is said to be (or seeing anything if and when they get there). As for the other two, if they are still mobile it is somewhat puzzling that they have not made it out (though any mountain in a whiteout is hard to navigate, let alone an unfamiliar one). Even a descent of the North side via Cooper Spur (one reported route option) is not a picnic, especially in these conditions. In good, clear conditions, descent from the summit on the south side can take 2 hours or less for climbers with strong legs (it now takes a gimp like me 3+ hours), more for Cooper Spur, but not 3 days. All in all, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they are all hunkered down and will be found alive. PMR count some of the best Oregon climbers among their ranks, so if anyone can find these guys, it’s them.Mine, too. Thanks, Doug.
Here’s a shot of the north side taken during the Santiam Alpine Club ice climbing seminar last year. One news outlet reported that these guys were attempting to climb the rock gullies in the center of the photo. This time of year, they are full of ice from water melt and, under optimal conditions, can make for a really exhilarating and relatively quick ice climb. As might be obvious, because the gullies go to 60-70 degrees or better in places, under less optimal conditions such as weak snow cover or poor visibility the route can become quite desperate with few options for escape. Cooper Spur is to the left, Elliot Glacier below.
My fingers are crossed and my prayers are with them.