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Fall on Ice, Oregon, Mount Hood, Leuthold Couloir

FALL ON ICE

Oregon, Mount Hood, Leuthold Couloir

On May 28, approximately 0600: Three of us (Michele and Tim McCall, and Ken), climbers from Eugene Mountain Rescue, were climbing the Leuthold Couloir route. A party of six was ahead of us. The last rope team of two fell about half way up the route. The lead climber, George Garcia (46), fell; the second, Craig Sleight (38), attempted an arrest. George was already falling too fast and he pulled Craig off his arrest. George and Craig fell approximately 800 feet before their rope caught on an ice horn and stopped the fall (about 600 feet above a large crevasse).

We summoned the two other rope teams from the victims’ party and quickly down- climbed to offer aid. We found the injured pair quite tangled in their rope and in much better condition than expected. Craig had several abrasions, a deep laceration in his thigh and a fractured arm. He was able to walk out with Ken to Illumination Saddle where the Timberline Lodge snowcat evacuated him. George was too seriously injured to walk. He was very disoriented and he had severe pain in his shoulders and ribs. The other members of his party reached us and we called for assistance on a cellular phone that they were carrying. We knew that it would be several hours before help would arrive and that it was too dangerous to stay in the couloir.

Tim, climbers from George's party, and I lowered George on belay with two attendants to a relatively safe place on the Reid Glacier. The lower took about four hours due to difficult terrain and George's condition. We secured George on the Glacier and monitored his vital signs. He appeared to be slipping into shock. Two medics from the American Medical RAT team arrived about five and a half hours after the fall. They treated George with fluids, oxygen, and pain medication which helped to stabilize George's deteriorating condition. About an hour later a helicopter and medics from the 304th Air Rescue of the Air Force Reserve arrived to evacuate George. Several climbers and the medics lowered George to the landing site and he was flown to the hospital.

Analysis

When climbing a route like Leuthold Couloir, a speedy ascent is essential. A party must ascend quickly to avoid ice and rock fall danger. When conditions feel comfortable, many people climb this route without protection. However, this accident shows that under these conditions the snow was too hard for one climber to hold another's fall. A running belay in this case probably would have held George's fall or at least slowed it enough for Craig to be able to hold his arrest.

With all of the talk today about the expense of climbing rescues, I want to comment that this rescue was handled mainly by the injured climbers party and our party that just happened to be at the accident scene. Both parties were very well equipped for the evacuation and basic patient care. George's possible life-threatening injuries did require a helicopter evacuation, but in Oregon, the 304th uses this type of evacuation to qualify for training hours, so there is no cost to the public. (Source: Michele and Tim McCall, Eugene Mountain Rescue)