Mt. Hood

May 20-21, 2000

Eleven climbers met in the parking lot of Timberline Lodge on Friday night. After a brief amount of sleep (less than an hour for most of us), we set out for the standard south side route on Mt. Hood. It was perfect weather, and as one might expect for that time of year, there was a steady stream of climbers. We made good time to the top of the Palmer chair, although some people were not feeling well and decided to turn back. Our assistant leader, Cathy Fairbanks, went back with them. Toward sunrise, one more climber decided to turn back. By the time we got just below the Hogs Back, there were five of us left in the group. (One climber was ahead of the pack, waiting for us on the ridge).  I stopped to look up at the summit, and suddenly a climber came sliding down from the top of the chute. In mid-fall, she lost her ice ax, so her chance to self-arrest was lost. The climbers along the ridgeline watched in stunned silence, as she slid head first, on her back straight for Hell’s Kitchen. (Hell’s Kitchen is a rocky area with several sulfur vents). Just as she hit the rocks, another climber came sliding down out of control). In a split second, he was gone! He disappeared into a fumeral. Our group was the closest to the accident, so two of us cautiously made our way down to the injured climber. At that point, I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see the other person, but I was hoping he was still alive.

By the time we reached the woman, the other climber slowly crawled out to the surface. Both climbers were in shock. The woman’s leg was clearly broken, so we tried to stabilize it to minimize her discomfort. She had a cell phone, so I called 911. The operator indicated that Portland Mountain Rescue would be there shortly. It was 7:00 a.m. The wind was blowing, which made it seem much colder. We emptied out our packs and wrapped both climbers with our extra clothing. We also tried to get something under each one, so they were not on the cold ground. After an hour or so, two other climbers came to help. Both were well trained in wilderness medicine and first aid. They did a thorough assessment of the injured climbers. It was obvious that the most immediate threat was hypothermia, so the Obsidians huddled next to the injured parties to add some extra body heat. By 10:00 a.m., we were getting cold ourselves, so we turned the rescue effort over to the two well-trained climbers. We left our names with the person in charge so we could eventually retrieve the clothes and gear, which we had donated.

As we approached the Palmer chair, we saw the PMR climbers coming up with a litter. We proceeded down to the parking lot, reassured that the injured climbers would be off the mountain soon. But it was 4:00 p.m. when the snow cat arrived at Timberline…nine hours from the time we called 911! Nobody in our group reached the summit, but it was a very valuable and rewarding experience. We all learned something from the accident. Perhaps the most important lesson related to wilderness rescues. They are complicated and very time consuming. As a postscript, I received an e-mail from the injured woman last week. She tracked us down through climbing connections, and she was very appreciative of the support the Obsidians were able to give her on Mt. Hood. Climbers on the rescue effort included Peggy Mathes (Obsidian), Tom Bonamici, Faye Chadwell, Don Gillman, and Deb Carver (Obsidian Leader). Other climbers included Cathy Fairbanks (assistant leader), Andrew Bonamici, Gary Osborne, Cheyanne Dreest, Anne McLucas (Obsidian), and Doug McCarty (who patiently waited for us at the Hogs Back).

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