American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall on Snow—Unable to Self-Arrest, Oregon, Mount Hood, South Side

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

FALL ON SNOW-UNABLE TO SELF-ARREST Oregon, Mount Hood, South Side

After successfully ascending South Side on July 23, Zach Usadi-Henrickson (20) slipped on a steep section of snow roughly below the “Mazama Chute” as he was descending. He was unable to arrest the fall and came to rest just above the fumaroles (steam and sulfur vents) on the west side of the Hogs- back at about 10:00 a.m. Usadi-Henrickson’s two climbing partners helped stabilize his injuries and called for a rescue.

Analysis

The Cascade Volcanoes are notorious for rotten rock. Climbers usually only climb the steeper technical routes when the freezing level is low and the rock is secured by layers of rime ice. Generally speaking, by early July, most of the ice on the upper mountain has melted away, significantly increasing the risk of rockfall. Additionally, the bergshrund crevasses on the south side of Mount Hood have usually grown to the point that the are a much more formidable hazard then they are during the “normal” climbing season (May-June.)

These individuals chose to climb Mount Hood on the hottest day of the year, with temperatures predicted to be near 100 degrees in Portland and a 14 to 15,000 foot freezing level. According to the climbers, the snow conditions were good at the time of the accident and did not contribute to the accident, though there was significant rockfall that presented its own risks and endangered the patient once he came to rest after the fall. This was the patient’s first technical climb, and he may not have been aware of the risks they were taking and the normal protocols for climbing this mountain.

To avoid accidents like this, climbers should: 1) Climb early and during periods when the rotten rock is relatively secure with rime ice; 2) climb with experienced partners who have good judgment, know proper techniques and protocols, and have the proper equipment; 3) research climbs to understand what normal procedures are for the intended route, and any extraordinary risks that may exist; and 4) check condition reports to understand what recent observations may exist.

All three climbers in this party were certified Wilderness First Responders. This training clearly paid off as the patient’s two climbing partners did an excellent job of assessing and treating injuries. However, this was one of the classic dilemmas where a patient presented with possible spinal injuries that would indicate that they not be moved, but the extreme risk of rockfall necessitated moving the patient to protect him and the rescuers from more serious injuries. Nevertheless, the party is to be commended for their patient assessment and treatment of injuries, as well as their cooperation with rescuers and helping in the difficult rescue effort. They did very well given the conditions they encountered. (Source: Steve Rollins, Portland Mountain Rescue, and various newspaper reports)

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