American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow, Weather — Unstable Snow Conditions, Faulty Use of Crampons — Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur Route

  • Accident Reports
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  • Publication Year: 2000

FALL ON SNOW, WEATHER – UNSTABLE SNOW CONDITIONS, FAULTY USE OF CRAMPONS

Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur Route

Carey Cardon (31) and his wife Tena Cardon (29) were experienced mountaineers training for a proposed climb of Mt. McKinley. They started climbing the

Cooper Spur at 0430 on May 23. They summited about 0800 via the 2,000- foot, 50-degree snow slope that capped the 4,500-foot route above their tent. On the descent, one of the Cardons slipped just below the summit and they tumbled roped together more than 2,000 feet down the mountain to their deaths.

Analysis

The Cooper Spur Route below the summit of Mt. Hood is notoriously dangerous, having caused the deaths of at least 13 climbers preceding the Cardons. The Oregon Mountaineering Association’s route description states, “Particular caution should be taken on descent, and some climbers arrange a shuttle ... so that they may descend the standard route.” Oregon High, a Climbing Guide by Jeff Thomas states, “Do not descend Cooper Spur... during periods of hot weather, as the snow becomes excessively soft...” The Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot states, “It is quite steep and exposed. Falls from this route are common and often fatal...”

A spring heat wave and the strong morning sun had dangerously softened the snow on the Cooper Spur Route on this day. Joren Bass and his partner had ascended the route at the same time as the Cardons. Bass decided to descend an alternate, safer route. “We were kind of surprised that they were going back down that way.”

An eye witness reported that he was certain that both climbers were wearing crampons. Therefore it is probable that snow was balling up in them. One rescue team member said that Carey Cardon was found with his crampons on, while Tena was not so found. A professional climbing guide named Charles Hsieh rendered this opinion: “There were no gross errors in judgment.” However, the facts suggest otherwise. (Sources: Robert Speik, Jed Williamson, and The Oregonian, May 25)

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