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Fall on Rock and Snow, Inexperience, Inadequate Equipment and Clothing, Climbing Alone, Oregon, Mount Thielsen

FALL ON ROCK AND SNOW, INEXPERIENCE, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING, CLIMBING ALONE

Oregon, Mount Thielsen

On June 25, Tristan Massie (40), visiting Oregon from Maryland, was free-solo climbing the spectacular talus of the class four summit of Mount Thielsen when he slipped, fell about 20 feet on volcanic blocks, and then slid about 50 feet on the steep snow field below the summit.

Tristan lay on the snow with painful and disabling injuries, unable to move more than a few feet, for the remainder of the day on Friday, when he heard a climber crossing the remote snowfield late in the afternoon. He was just barely able to attract the climber’s attention.

He had left his cell phone in his summit pack, stashed near his hiking boots at the foot of his proposed rock climb to the summit. The lone climber, Stewart Slay, had a cell phone and called 911 for Search and Rescue assistance at 5:07 p.m. Tristan was lying lightly clad, directly on the snow, under the threat of frost bite and hypothermia. Time passed and it grew very cold and dark before the Douglas County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team could be mobilized and climb the snow covered slopes to the two climbers at 12:30 a.m. During the night, Tristan was lowered on a stretcher, down the steep snow and scree slope northwest of the summit to easier ground, where, at 10 a.m. Saturday, he was hoisted up into an Oregon National Guard helicopter and flown to St. Charles Hospital in Bend, Oregon.

Analysis

Experience tells us to climb new summits with known companions. From Maryland, Tristan Massie had scheduled a guided climb of some Cascades peaks near Bend, but remaining snow fields had put the peaks out of reasonable reach for the guided group. Mount Thielsen was suggested as an easy peak. He is a strong long-distance runner. He reached the summit blocks in just four hours from the trailhead, despite drifts of snow on the trail and the large snowfield below the summit. Local experience tells us that few people climb Mount Thielsen this early in the summer.

Tammy Massie notes that Tristan did not carry his cell phone in his pants pocket or their SPOT-2 “GPS satellite communicator” and that he did not have a topo map of Mount Thielsen. He did not have a helmet, usually used when climbing peaks in the volcanic Oregon Cascades. Rather than carrying his small summit pack on the scramble, he had left it at the base of the rock face. He was unable to reach his summit pack and phone or his larger pack, which, however, did not have gear for a stranding overnight in the forecast conditions. He might not have survived the night, lying lightly dressed on the snow in subzero temperatures and summit winds, without his chance encounter.

We have confirmed that Tristan had not set a specific time for a designated Responsible Person to call 911 in the event that he did not check in or answer his cell phone. Tammie Massie states: “Unfortunately in the case of Tristan’s adventure in OR I would only have called 911 on Sunday night when he did not get back on his flight.” (Source: Robert Speik)