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Improper Decision—Failing to Turn Back, Weather, Inadequate Equipment, Failure to Follow Route, Oregon, Mount Hood

IMPROPER DECISION—FAILING TO TURN BACK, WEATHER, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE

Oregon, Mount Hood

On May 1, 1993, Robert McQueen (38), Lisa Padilla (42), and Lance Piatt (32) were descending Mount Hood in an intensifying storm. In their own words:

“We were descending the hogsback. Due to the stinging ice particles, we could only glance at our route. Although very familiar with the route, everything looked like a cliff looking down. On an avalanche slope looking up, we couldn’t find the wands. We made a group decision to call by cellular telephone for advice and keep warm on the hot rocks. We found out there was a rescue party already just 1000 feet below us and we were advised to stay put and await their assistance.” (Source: Robert J. McQueen)

Analysis

This party did not have adequate equipment to bivouac, was unable to navigate in the whiteout conditions, and did not accept the free use of an MLU (Mountain Location Unit—a radio beacon device).

Again, in their own words:

“We heard there was incoming weather, but underestimated its ferocity. We avoid winter climbs and always try to climb in good weather but have had to use a compass several times. Still, none of us had ever felt a blizzard like this before. Another group had placed the wands but they didn’t go high enough and weren’t placed close enough together for us to find them.

“We were directly responsible for creating this hazardous situation. The rescue was the responsibility of a highly professional and cohesive group of people who went beyond being on duty, mustering exceptional strength and bravery and putting our welfare in front of theirs.

“While cellular technology can help provide safety in almost any situation, we were lacking in the ability to spend the night on the mountain and did not carry a Mountain Locater Unit, which sends an alert and pinpoints climbers’ location. This device can be rented for a token fee, and should be valuable for climbs in any conditions.” (Source: Robert J. McQueen and Jeff Scheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue)

(Editors Note: The MLU availability is the result of the 1986 tragedy involving two teachers and several students from the Oregon Episcopal School. In fact, the conditions encountered by this party were not dissimilar. See ANAM 1987, pp. 65-67.)