American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Oregon, Mt. Hood

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1963

Oregon, Mt. Hood. On September 5, five Reed College students: Richard Steven Knutson (21), Mike Templeton (21), Tom Link (21), Gary Payne (19), and Steve McCarthy (19) ascended Mt. Hood by the Sunshine Route. They left their camp at 4:00 A.M. and reached the summit at 12:30 P.M

The party began its descent by the Cooper Spur Route at approximately 1:15 P.M. The upper portions of this route vary between 45 degrees and 55 degrees with extreme exposure to the Eliot Glacier cirque. The climbers had divided the group into a rope of three and a rope of two. At the base of the chimney, approximately 10,000 feet elevation, Knutson unroped from the string of three, thus leaving a rope of two, and the other rope untied. Knutson began glissading, but after a short time, he started to kick steps down. He had on one crampon only, since the parachute cord on the other had broken. At about 2:45 P.M., members of the party saw Knutson slide onto his back, make an effort at self-arrest, and then disappear over the cliff. The victim fell at least 1000 feet. On the way down, he lost his ice ax, his pack, and other pieces of equipment. Templeton followed Knutson’s tracks toward the glacier, while the two that were roped, belayed themselves down to the glacier. The remaining student, McCarthy, continued down the spur for help. When Templeton found Knutson, he was in a crevasse on a ledge about 25 feet below the lip of the crack. The victim was unconscious, in a curl (referred to as a “fetal position” by one of the students), and his only apparent injuries were shock and abrasions.

McCarthy met Al Combs and Bob Holder, members of MRSCO, at 3:15 P.M., informed them of the accident, and then continued down the spur to summon additional help. Combs and Holder climbed down to the glacier and reached the accident scene at 4:30 P.M.

Combs and Holder built a rope stretcher and were able to carry Knutson out of the crevasse with the help of the three Reed students. The condition of the victim (severe shock), the low temperature of the crevasse, and the dangerous terrain (rock fall) necessitated the removal of the climber into the open. The progress of the rescue group was slow due to the fatigue of the boys and a number of crevasses. At 6:30 P.M. Knutson had been moved to a fairly level spot at about 8,800 foot level, and the three Reed students continued down the mountain. A U.S. Air Force helicopter arrived at 7:30 P.M., evacuated the climber to the Hood River Hospital where it was determined that he was suffering from severe shock, a broken leg, broken breast bone, dislocated jaw, and multiple abrasions.

Source: A1 Combs.

Analysis: Two of the climbers (Knutson and Templeton) had limited experience. They had attended Climbing School, but had climbed only a few mountains. The other three had no climbing experience. The leaders had been advised by the Mazamas that the route was extremely difficult at this time of the year, and that it would be unwise to attempt it. Nobody in the party had either ascended or descended Sunshine or Cooper Spur routes. The party unroped too soon. The victim was glissading with a crampon on one of his boots. Knutson was not familiar enough with the technique of self-arrest. The party knew little first aid and had no knowledge of rescue techniques. Members of the climbing party did not have enough warm clothing with them.

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