American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Party Separated, Weather, California, Mount Shasta

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS (AMS), PARTY SEPARATED, WEATHER

California, Mount Shasta

On May 25, Mike Turegun (35) and John Cain (49) approached Mount Shasta via Northgate, setting up a base camp at 9,000 feet on the bench near the Hotlum/Bolam Route. On May 26 they began climbing the Hotlum/Bolam Route. They left a pack with clothing, food, and insulin for Cain on the “step” at 12,000 feet and continued up the route. At 1400, Cain became altitude sick at 13,000 feet and stopped climbing. Cain wanted to turn back, so Turegun continued on to the summit (14,163 feet). As Turegun was returning to where he left Cain, a sudden snow storm hit, causing a whiteout. Turegun was unable to find the descent route and was guided back to his base camp by yelling to another climbing party. When Cain did not return to base camp by the next morning, Turegun walked out to their vehicle and drove to the USFS Ranger Station in Mount Shasta to report Cain missing. Cain was described as being in good physical condition with a lot of outdoor experience, having climbed Mount Shasta in the past via the Avalanche Gulch route. However, he was diabetic and also had mid-range multiple sclerosis. He wore braces on both legs below the knees.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Search and Rescue (SAR) team was contacted and a search was initiated, coordinated by Sgt. Dave Nickelson. At 1530 the pack left by Turegun and Cain was spotted on the step where they had left it by CHP helicopter and the base camp was overflown and was still unoccupied. Checks of other trailheads and roads yielded no results. At 2040 the search was halted and arrangements were made for use of a high altitude military helicopter the following day. On May 28, California National Guard helicopter arrived at Siskiyou County airport and loaded four SAR members on board for a high altitude search at 0830. USFS Mountain Ranger Dan Towner hiked from Northgate to the base camp and found it unoccupied and undisturbed at 1024. At 1055 the CNG helicopter reported a possible sighting and landed, offloading two SAR members to investigate. Cain was pronounced dead at the 9,400 foot level of the base of the Bolam Glacier. The body was hoisted aboard and flown out.

It should be noted that Turegun and Cain were on school break from their work as math professors at Oklahoma City Community College and had attempted Mount Shasta earlier. Cain got altitude sickness so they turned back and traveled to Mount Hood in Oregon, but the weather was too bad to climb. They then returned to Mount Shasta for their ill fated climb. (Source: Ron Cloud, with thanks to Sgt. Dave Nickelson—both SAR members)

(Editor’s Note: Ron Cloud sent forward two other accounts of incidents on Mount Shasta. Two men (30) and a woman (27) slid 500 feet down the Hotlum/Bolam Route when one of them lost footing on hard ice, fell, and pulled the other two off. They had a cell phone and were able to summon help. In October, a man (50) did the same slide, fracturing a leg and dislocating a shoulder. Taking the time to set up an anchored belay when the glacier turns to ice is time consuming, but so are complicated rescues and healing from serious injuries.)

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