American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stranded, Failure to Follow Route, Climbing Alone and Unroped, Haste, Weather, Oregon, Mount Hood

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

STRANDED, FAILURE TO FOLLOW ROUTE, CLIMBING ALONE AND UNROPED, HASTE, WEATHER

Oregon, Mount Hood

On Friday, May 31, I arrived at Timberline Lodge at 2330 with the intent of climbing Mount Hood via the Sandy Glacier Headwall, a moderate snow and ice route. I hiked to the summit via the south side/Hogsback route before sunrise. Finding excellent snow conditions and clear, cold weather, I headed to the Sandy Glacier. Once on the Sandy Glacier, I made the critical error of failing to traverse far enough to the west. This left me at the base of the Sandy Couloir route rather than the Sandy Glacier Headwall route. I climbed the couloir to its top, where I was shocked to find rime-covered rock towers where I expected low angle snow slopes leading to the summit. I realized my error and recognized the rock towers were the upper buttress of the Yocum Ridge. It was late morning by this time and the ambient temperature had risen dramatically. I tried to climb east into the Leuthold Couloir, but was impeded by difficult rock climbing. My attempts to traverse west onto the Sandy Glacier Headwall and to downclimb the Sandy Couloir were stymied by deteriorating snow conditions. I planned on waiting until the next morning for the snow to consolidate before making another attempt at downclimbing the route. I alerted a climbing party on the Reid Glacier to my predicament in case I would not be able to extricate myself.

This, indeed, became the case as the night was warm and snow conditions failed to improve. I waited Sunday for my eventual rescue which came in the form of an Air Force helicopter.

Analysis

I was climbing very fast, intending to summit twice in one day. I simply made a careless route finding error. Because I was attempting an easy route, I relaxed, got caught up in the fantastic climbing and made a stupid mistake. Climbing, especially alpine solo climbing, is a game in which constant vigilance is necessary. Had I been paying attention, this incident could easily have been avoided. (Source: Daniel Smith-27).

(Rescuer’s Note: Although this mission resulted in a successful air evacuation, the Air Force rescue helicopters [MH-60 Pavehawks] made two attempts before the extrication. The very warm temperatures which created the unstable snowpack and rendered the ground approach unsafe, also created density-altitude limitations for the aircraft. Mountaineers should be aware that rescue helicopters may be limited, despite “fair weather” conditions at even moderate altitudes. Getting off route on the approach to this particular route has happened before, and often enough so that it has prompted a warning in the guidebook. (Source: Jeff Sheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue) (Editor’s Note: There was another Oregon report of one fatality on Mount Thielson involving a young woman (20) who left her hiking partner to continue “a little farther” on more technical terrain. Her partner stopped, and shortly thereafter, she saw the fall. Kristen Gehling landed on her head after a 20 foot fall, then slid another 200 feet in the loose shale. Whether this was an intended technical climb or not, the terrain turned from a hiking venture into a climbing event.)

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