American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Falling Rock, Weather, Late Start, Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

FALLING ROCK, WEATHER, LATE START

Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur

On July 27, Dr. Gary Lee (55), an experienced climber, and his son Devin (20) finished the ascent of the Sunshine route in the early afternoon. They descended by the Cooper Spur route, stopping at a snowfield at the 10,000- foot level to unrope and don crampons. Believing that the worst part of the climb was behind them, they continued down the snowfield until a watermelon-sized rock struck Dr. Lee in the back and sent him tumbling down the fall line. He fell about 1000 feet out of sight and became wedged between boulders on the steep north face. Devon continued descending, calling after his father, but was unable to make contact. He was met by two hikers who placed a 911-cell phone call notifying authorities of the accident.

The body recovery by ground teams involved hazards associated with loose rock on the exposed north face and included an airdrop of a 600-foot rope.

Analysis

Nearby climbers observed the pair during their ascent and noted their lateness on route. Also, the previous night remained warm, so the snow surface did not freeze/stabilize. Climbers must adjust their schedules for early starts to beat the diurnal heating cycle and be well clear of rockfall hazards by mid-morning. Rescuers experienced late season conditions (thin snowcover, icy surfaces, and excessive rockfall). The party’s upper descent route was completely free of snow/ice, thereby exposing a bed of unstable rock. Though the party did not wear helmets, this choice would probably not have affected the outcome of such a long fall. However, this might be an indicator of their unawareness of the climbing conditions. (Source: Jeff Sheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue)

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