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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"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.

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.

Mine, too. Thanks, Doug.

Comments (13)

Heard yesterday that they did not take one of those beeper/locator chips with them.

Is that true?

Maybe it's just me, but this is where those of us not involved with the sport...question the label 'experienced'. If you had game, you'd have wise time-tested respect for nature and the what-ifs, consequently you'd be packing'. Tell me I'm wrong.

Doug adds:

Looks like clearer weather this morning, fingers still crossed. I did neglect to mention the Crag Rats, a climbing club from Hood River that works the North side of the mountain when needed. Again, a bunch of dedicated guys, all volunteers. SAC spends a weekend every March with the Crag Rats at the historic old Cloud Cap Inn, the turn-of-the-century lodge at 6,000’ just below the rescue efforts.

Like a great many people, I've summited Mt Hood - and I've given a lot a thought as to whether or not the experience was worth risking my life. And I'm pretty certain that the answer is yes, it was.
I'm also pretty certain I would think otherwise had anything gone desperately wrong.

I made it to the top of Mount McLaughlin in southern Oregon once. A long but easy hike, really. I think I'm going to call it good right there.

I climbed Mt. St. Helens and before it was over, I was very grateful the top part had been blown off.
Seriously, I hope this works out for these guys. We need a win here, especially after last week.

got logic is dead on.

I hope they find them alive and I hope they bill them for the search.

If it's true they didn't bother to take locator beacons, then they obviously didn't have good sense. It remains to be seen whether the altruism and dedication of total strangers will overcome this preventable situation.

My niece died in the OES climb. Her death, and the deaths of the others, paved the way for the rescue beacons to be made available. Going up that mountain without a beacon is not just foolhardy, but disrespectful to those who died, to everyone who helped make the beacons possible, and to the rescue teams risking their own lives to find the climbers.

I hope these guys live long enough for me to tell 'em off for that.

I watched the news last night and saw the search teams returning from the 70mph white out up on the mountain.
These guys were truly risking their lives for fellow climbers.
I think it's time to go to a "no rescue locator, no rescue" policy for people climbing Mt Hood.
I engage in a high risk sport of windsurfing, where self rescue is the norm. People go out on the water prepared to come back in. And yes, I have had to rescue others over the years.

I hope these guys live long enough for me to tell 'em off for that.

They're from out of town -- probably don't know the story. And maybe don't know the beacons were available. Not to excuse them -- but possible mitigation.

If you are going to engage in a high risk sport (ice climbing, hang-gliding, motorcycle racing), it behooves you to learn as much as possible about local conditions, geography, resources, laws, customs, etc.

To simply fly into town, park you vehicle with a note on the dashboard, and drop a postcard in the ranger's office....Seems a little light on the due dilligence from my perspective.

Granted, all the details of their preparations may never be known, but if they didn't have a beacon, they were either unaware of their availability, or they decided it wasn't worth the inconvenience of renting them.

They (and their loved ones) will pay the ultimate price. I just hope their would be rescuers are not killed or injured in the process. I also hope that other mountain climbing enthusiasts (especially those with dependents) will be more cautious in the future.

Agree with Tee....if these 3 are such "experienced" climbers, one might anticipate their experience would caution them about embarking upon what was clearly a high risk climb. In so doing, they have, at very least, endangered their own lives....if not lost them, and certainly, put rescuers in an equally, high risk position. I find it difficult to share much sympathy for those who embark upon foolish endeavors.

Heartless?....cold?....no....just common sense.

When I see someone get into trouble, this is what I think: "There but for grace go I." Perhaps I would not be in the same kind of trouble, but we all make our share of mistakes. I hope these climbers make it out OK.

It seems like it would be easier for me to scorn sympathy for these guys and their families, but... no. Even though I am annoyed that they declined or missed what I think of as a basic precaution for Hood, I still fervently wish that they will be found safe and with all their fingers and toes intact. I know what it's like to sit and wait for some hopeful news and have none, and it's horrible to think of anyone going through that. My heart goes out to the climbers' families.

The fact remains, though, that no matter how faint anyone else's sympathy for the climbers' plight, it's at least something. That mountain has no sympathy at all.

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