FALL ON ROCK
Oregon, Mount Hood, Sandy Glacier Headwall
On June 20, James Frankenfield (39) and Iain Morris (23) were on the Sandy Glacier Headwall route on Mount Hood. At 0730, while traversing above the glacier to the headwall, they were involved in a major rockfall event which initiated thousands of feet above on the upper buttress of the Yokum Ridge. Both climbers were struck by rocks. One had a severely swollen hand which was not broken. The other had a more serious hip injury The two were initially able to continue, each under his own power, to a previously identified safe area. At that point the climber suffering a hip injury could not continue due to excessive shock. The two climbers assessed their situation, hoping that they could stabilize the injuries enough to descend Cathedral Ridge to Lolo Pass Road on their own. By 1230 they realized and accepted that a rescue would be necessary. They attempted to call for help on their VHF radio using the state SAR frequency, but were unsuccessful. They then scanned the channels on their Sport Radios and found they could receive a number of conversations on channels 1 and 2. They called for assistance on Channel 1 and received a response from Mike Wold who had been summoned by his sons, Fletcher and Parker, when they heard the call for assistance. Through Mike Wold the Clakamas County Sheriff was informed of the situation and three ground teams were called out. The Sheriff also asked the 939th rescue unit if they would accept the mission and they did. Permission was obtained from the USFS for an air evacuation from their property. At 1700 the climbers were attended to and transported by the 939th Rescue team. They were taken to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland. As of Wednesday evening, June 21, both climbers had been released from the hospital and were able to return home without assistance.
The Sandy Glacier Headwall route is on the west side of Mount Hood. It is not a frequently climbed route due largely to its distance from any trailheads.
Iain and Jim followed the typical approach, which is to climb up from Timber- line Lodge on the south side to Illumination Saddle, then cross the Reid Glacier to Yokum Ridge. Like most routes on Mount Hood, this one relies on snow for travel. It is an alpine climbing, or mountaineering, route. It is not a hike, nor is it a rock climb. The descent is typically down the south side route.
The freezing level had been low recently but was rising at the time. The snow was refrozen enough to travel on comfortably with crampons. Snow cover on the route was good and only a very small section of the traverse around Yokum Ridge was bare. The headwall above the Sandy Glacier which constitutes the main climb to the summit ridges appeared to have very good snow coverage. The climbers saw a couple if isolated rocks fall as they approached the Sandy Glacier, but not more than one at a time and not an amount that is unusual for the Oregon Cascades. The pair spent all day Wednesday on the Sandy Glacier and did not observe any further large rockfall events, even in the heat of the afternoon.
The length of time the climbers took to assess their injuries—five hours— would have delayed the rescue significantly if airlift resources had not been available. Ground teams would have had to proceed in darkness.
For this route, a cellular phone would be a better choice for alerting authorities. Iain Morris believes that his helmet saved his life. (Sources: Oregon Mountaineering Association and Jeff Scheetz)