FALL ON ICE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT–DULL CRAMPONS
Oregon, Mount Hood, South Side
On March 23, two climbers (both 22) were descending the South Side standard route on Mount Hood. One of the climbers lost his footing at the “Pearly Gates” (roughly 11,000 feet) and took a tumbling fall down the Hogs Back, coming to rest near the Devils Kitchen (10,300 feet). Injuries included various abrasions and a severely sprained ankle. Both climbers appeared to be responsible individuals and were both certified Wilderness First Responders able to assess and treat the injuries at hand.
Given the icy conditions and rapidly decreasing visibility, a call was placed to Timberline Lodge ski patrol to inform them of the accident. Both climbers were fairly self sufficient and intended to attempt a self-improvised rescue. Coincidentally two members of Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) were in the immediate area and were informed of the injured climber by another party on the mountain. Due to the steep icy conditions and limited visibility, the climbers requested assistance with the evacuation from the PMR members.
Starting at the Hogs Back, the patient was lowered several pitches to the 9400 foot level near Triangle Moraine. At this point the terrain angle eased off enough to allow the patient to hobble off the mountain using ski poles with self-arrest grips as an improvised crutch. Two rescuers followed the patient using short tag lines as a belay. Once arriving at the top of the Palmer lift (8500 feet), a snow cat was able to provide transportation back to Timberline Lodge.
Upon arriving at Timberline Lodge, the patient’s crampons were inspected. The crampons were rented from an outdoor store and the points were very dull. It is conceivable that the dull crampon points were not sharp enough to bite in to the ice encountered at the Pearly Gates—and possibly contributed to the uncontrolled fall. Whenever renting mountaineering equipment, it is a good idea to thoroughly inspect the equipment and verify that it is in adequate shape for the conditions you think you may encounter.
Depending on the comfort level of the climbers, the use of a running belay may have been warranted considering the icy conditions on the steep slope. The use of a running belay certainly could have minimized the extent of the fall.
There are two additional worthwhile comments. First, when considering a possible self-rescue, it is important to be certain you are familiar with the terrain and any possible difficulties the rescue effort might encounter. In this instance the climbers could have lowered the patient over a cliff on the wrong side of Crater Rock, or descended the wrong side of mountain due to white- out conditions. Do not attempt a self-rescue if it may cause the victim’s condition to deteriorate more (or cause greater harm) than a wait for outside assistance with greater resources.
Second, in Oregon, Search and Rescue is the responsibility of the County Sheriff. The Ski Patrol is responsible for assisting injured skiers within the ski boundary and is not prepared to assist injured climbers high on the mountain. If an accident occurs on Mt. Hood, it is important to call 911, which can route the call to the appropriate resources in an efficient manner. Calling the ski patrol or a ski resort instead of 911 can complicate and extend the time needed to assemble a rescue team. (Source: Steve Rollins, Portland Mountain Rescue)