American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock—Dislodged, Fall on Snow, Exceeding Abilities, Inadequate Equipment/Clothing, Oregon, Mount Jefferson, Milk Creek

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

FALLING ROCK—DISLODGED, FALL ON SNOW, EXCEEDING ABILITIES, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT/CLOTHING

Oregon, Mount Jefferson, Milk Creek

During the weekend of July 29-30, six teenage boys elected to climb Mount Jefferson via the Milk Creek route. Nearing the summit pinnacle, they drifted north, crossing the creek, and ascended steep snow without helmets and unroped. Not all had ice axes. Around 1430, a large boulder was dislodged by members of the party and rolled toward another member causing him to lose his footing. He took a tumbling, sliding fall of nearly 600 feet into Milk Creek couloir. During the fall, he sustained an open fracture of the left forearm, possible closed head injury, numerous lacerations, and although he did not know it, a fractured ankle. Dressed primarily in shorts and T-shirts, the six were not prepared to bivouac. Three remained with the injured teen while two descended to their camp at 6,400 feet to alert another member of their party before leaving for help. By 2000, the injured boy, who had been unconscious following the fall, was more lucid, and his friends began assisting him toward their camp, 3,000 feet below. They arrived in camp around 0230.

CMRU Mission Coordinator, Bill Ellison, received a call at 1915, and at Bills direction, Benton County paged CMRU at 1930. The truck was underway before 2100 and arrived at the Pamelia Lake Trailhead about 2300. Shortly after midnight, CMRU, ESAR, and Posse teams were in the field heading toward the jump off point on the Pacific Crest Trail. CMRU and ESAR teams carried gear up the mountain and located the camp at 0543. While the medical team assessed the patient and checked out others in the climbing group who sustained minor injuries, the remaining teams arrived with evacuation gear. Medical information was passed to the 304th ARRS and they launched two helicopters plus a C130.

The helicopters arrived on scene at 0902 and inserted two PJs with a backboard and litter. The patient was transferred from CMRU s litter to 304th s and packaged for helicopter evac. The helicopter returned and maintained a seven-foot hover while the litter and patient were placed aboard. The PJs scrambled aboard and the evacuation was complete at 0949. Field teams packed up gear and departed the scene at 1023, arrived at the PCT at 1136, and returned to base camp by 1400.

This was a very smooth mission with excellent cooperation among the various units. PMR had sent three personnel who patiently waited in Base Camp.

Analysis

This party had little or no mountaineering experience. It is interesting to note that this accident occurred at 1430 in the afternoon, while they were ascending around 9,500 feet. It is strongly advised that climbers get a very early (0100 to 0300) start when climbing such routes. During the summer, the snow and ice covered volcanoes of the Cascades experience rapid softening of the snow, and often copious rockfall once the sun rises.

Not all of the members of this party had ice axes or crampons. They chose to leave most of their shell and insulating clothing at camp and climb in T-shirts and shorts. Helmets were not worn. Obviously, had they had this clothing, it may have prevented an epic descent with a disoriented climber. This descent included many falls, some into the creek, and nearly over a waterfall. (Source: Jeremy N. Adolf, Corvalis Mountain Rescue Unit)

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