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Exposure, Inadequate Equipment, Weather, Oregon, Mount Hood

EXPOSURE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, WEATHER

Oregon, Mount Hood

At 0300 on March 5, 1988, two climbers from the Portland area left Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood with the intention of skiing to Illumination Saddle (c. 300 meters) and then continuing by foot across the Reid Glacier and up Leuthold Couloir (Grade I-II) to the summit. The weather, which had been good, began to change midway up the Couloir, where the onset of high winds and blowing snow made visibility marginal.

Due to the poor conditions and their lack of familiarity with the route, they elected to dig a snow cave (with ice axes) near, but below, the summit in which to wait out the storm.

By 0730 on Sunday, they left the cave, climbed to the summit, and then descended via the south-side route where they triggered an inconsequential avalanche on the face above the Hogsback. The two climbers were met by a team from Portland Mountain Rescue around 1000 as they rounded Crater Rock on their way to retrieve their skis.

Both climbers were found to have suffered mild to moderate hypothermia, dehydration, and mild to severe frostbite of the face and extremities. (Source: David McClure, Portland Mountain Rescue)

Analysis

The fact that these climbers chose to do an unfamiliar, moderately technical route under winter conditions (with full knowledge that a storm front was predicted) cannot be viewed, in and of itself, as a mistake. The use, however, of ski boots with three pin bindings was inappropriate in light of the fact that the outline of the frostbite on their feet was clearly delineated by the position of the crampon straps over their boots. It is also appropriate that a shovel and stove be carried on winter and early season climbs when a bivouac is possible.

The fact that this incident had as few consequences as it did is due to the general level of skill that both climbers exhibited. (Source: David McClure, Portland Mountain Rescue)