AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Fall on Snow, Falling into Crevasse—Snow Slide, Unable to Self-arrest, Exceeding Abilities

FALL ON SNOW, FALLING INTO CREVASSE—SNOW SLIDE, UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST, EXCEEDING ABILITIES

Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur

On July 23, 1994, about 1330, a party of four was descending the Cooper Spur route when at least one individual lost his footing high on the route (c. 10,000 feet). The roped party was unable to team arrest before sliding and tumbling about 1,000 feet onto the upper Eliot glacier. Gerald Milton (51) and Ole Groupe (16) were buried in a crevasse at 8,800 feet by the ensuing wet snow slide which followed their fall line.

The accident was witnessed and reported independently by two climbing teams. One

raced down the mountain to the nearest telephone, while the other used a portable cellular phone. About 1700, Hood River County Sheriff’s Office set up a command post at Cloud Cap Inn, whose parking lot served as a landing zone for the subsequent helicopter shuttles. Joint teams from the Hood River Crag Rats, Portland Mountain Rescue, and the USAF 304th Rescue Squadron participated in the lengthy rescue. Air operations were hampered by ceiling/power limitations of hot weather and forced the on-scene landing zone below the accident site by about 700 feet. The two injured survivors, Matthew Hunt (30) and Peter Monte (36), were airlifted off the mountain by 0100 Sunday. Recovery efforts were resumed at first light with the additional help of Corvallis Mountain Rescue. Similar snow conditions on Sunday caused two avalanche spotters to be posted, while recovery teams battled with soft snow and falling rocks. Mountain operations were completed by 1430.

Analysis

These inexperienced climbers were descending their ascent route too late in the day, thereby accepting the hazardous conditions of soft, slushy, high-angle snow with a dangerous runout. Such predictable conditions can be avoided by: a) starting the climb early enough to ensure that the descent is completed well before the heat of the day; b) planning the climb early enough in the season when the solar-induced instability is less severe; c) descending by a different, less hazardous route. (This option may require a planned car shuttle.)

At least twelve persons have died while descending this route, the previous accident claiming five lives in June 1981. (Source: Jeff Sheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue)