Rescue in the Cascades

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Trip Report
Oregon, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Jul 1, 2001
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Created On: Mar 14, 2002
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Trip Report: Mount Hood & Mount Adams
July 1-3, 2001

1) Introduction

Although I had visited Timberline Lodge at the base of Mount Hood back in January 6, 1999, the stars wouldn't align for my first climb of this peak until July 1, 2001. Since I grew up on the East Coast and had only recently moved out to the West Coast, Mount Hood was my first snow peak out west. I was a little apprehensive since the entire climb would be above treeline on snow and you could see almost the entire route from the parking lot - a new experience for me.

My trip up to the Cascades lasted from Saturday, June 30 to Wednesday, July 4 and was a last minute thing. My company had asked me to man our booth at the Microsoft Fusion trade show in Anaheim, CA later on in the month, so I committed myself to that weekend, but got 2 days off before July 4, creating a 5-day weekend for my Cascades adventure. I quickly made flight arrangements to head up to Portland as I was anxious to climb Hood before the season ended.

Armed with my copy of Jeff Smoot's Climbing the Cascades Volcanoes book, I headed up, intent to check out Mount Hood, Mount Adams, and Mount Saint Helens. Little did I know that I would soon be part of a mountain rescue team.

2) Mount Hood - Hogsback - July 1, 2001

2.1) Perparations

I flew out of San Jose, CA to Portland, OR first thing Saturday morning, June 30. Since Hood was my main objective, I was planning to make my attempt that night on July 1 to give me additional opportunities if my first attempt ended in failure. I considered going up on a guided climb with Timberline Mountain Guides, but told myself: (1) that I would rather save my money and (2) how hard could it be? After all, I would be climbing the Hogsback, a route that Jeff Smoot calls the "Dog Route" and I would be doing this was a summer weekend so I was sure to have lots of company. Having my plan set, I wouldn't need to be at Mount Hood until the evening so I drove out to Mount Saint Helens first. I arrived at Jack's Restaurant before noon, but they had given out all their climbing permits for the day. Thoroughly disgusted with the quota system, I got back in my car and drove down to Mount Hood. I had already visited Saint Helens as a tourist twice so did not feel a need to go again if I wasn't going to climb it.

I took my time and arrived at the Timberline Lodge parking lot in the late afternoon. There were still skiers and boarders around as I went into the Climbers Cave to get my Wilderness Permit and fill out a Climbers' Registration Form. I didn't pick up any blue bags because I was just going to do this as a day hike. We were fortunate in the parking lot that day as the Hillsborough Rose Festival Air Show, sponsored by Intel, was running nearby and the sky was graced by several F-15 or F-18 fighter jets streaking above us with their afterburners turned on. After taking lots of photos with an inadequate zoom, I put my camera away and went back to visit the shops in the lodge. At this time I met Kristin (?), a first time climber who introduced me to some members of her climbing group of 6. Two of these people, Jim and Steve, were members of Western Montana Search and Rescue. They had climbed Rainier recently and were introducing some of their friends to climbing. This would be the first time the 4 others in their group climbed a Cascade volcano. Since Kristin was new to climbing and an overall nice person, she asked me if I wanted to join their group, however, after talking to Jim and Steve, the 3 of us agreed that it probably wasn't a good idea as they would have their hands full with the 4 novices as it were. While they practiced glacier travel technique and self-arrest, I went to get some dinner and some sleep. Little did I know that I would run into Jim and Steve the next day during our rescue.

2.2) The Climb

After dinner, I just went to sleep in my rental car in the parking lot. A few others were doing the same thing as there was a guy in a Suburu wagon next to me. I woke up around midnight and went to use the restroom at the Climber's Cave where I saw the guided Timberline Mountain Guides group getting ready. Around 1:00am on July 1, the guided group headed up to the top of the Palmer Lift in a snowcat offering anyone else a ride for $100. I don't think anyone took them up on the offer. Shortly after, I strapped on my crampons and started up from the parking lot. Pretty soon I ran into several other groups of climbers making their way up eventually hooking up with Rob and Dan, 2 local climbers also attempting to make the summit for the first time. Dan is an airborne medic with the US Army National Guard's 1042nd so we had some good conversations about the rescues he's been involved in the Three Sisters area. We hiked up to the top of the Palmer Lift where we took our first rest before traversing east to the rocks where we found some tentsites. Hiking up along the rocks eventually two other groups would catch up to us. At this point the pair was moving a bit slower and I wanted to avoid getting caught up with the other groups so I started hiking a little faster, getting up to the Hogsback about 30 minutes before the 3 groups that had come up at the same time. One of the groups was Jim and Steve's.

There were a ton of people at the Hogsback saddle already and while I was waiting for Rob and Dan I was carefully observing the groups making their way up and down the mountain around the bergscrund. Most parties were roped up, however, it didn't seem like a very difficult walk at this point. When Rob and Dan arrived they needed to take a rest and although they had offered to let me rope up with them, I didn't want to wait any longer and was feeling pretty confident about the walk so I told them I would head up by myself and see them up there. On the way up to the Pearly Gates I met a guy who was coming down solo with an axe but no crampons. Just above the Pearly Gates I stopped to talk to two people, Nick and a friend of his. Nick was from the Virginia area and this was his first volcano climb. He was telling his friend that the climb up from the Hogsback through the Pearly Gates was a bit steep for him and he wasn't feeling too confident about going down. I then headed up to the summit, telling the pair I would see them up there.

On the summit, there was a 3'x5'x2.5' deep pit dug in the snow where 2 people could hop in and duck out of the snow. To the north side there was a small ledge cut into the snow with some flowers and a 8"x11" photo of 2 climbers. I sat there looking at the photo for a moment, thinking to myself this must be a memorial to a climber, someone who died climbing a mountain. It was a sad thought but the atmosphere was very peaceful and quite beautiful with Rainier and Adams on the horizon. At this point there were just Nick and 2 other friends of his on the summit with me before Jim, Kristin and her boyfriend joined us on the summit. Those 3 were roped up at this point. After snapping a few photos, Jim's group started to head down, but the third and final member of Nick's 4 person group joined us on the summit. I took a few photos of the 4 of them on the summit with Rainier between them and they took some of me. It turns out that the 3 other climbers in Nick's party had summitted Rainier the year before with Rainier Mountaineering and this was a reunion of sorts. Nick was a colleage of one of the 3 and tagged along for his first Cascade volcano adventure.

2.3) The Descent and the Slide for Life

On our way down, there was no one behind us (myself and Nick's group) and the sun was getting higher in the sky. As we reached the top of the Pearly Gates, Dan and Rob came through roped up. We chatted for a while and I congratulated them making the summit. I was anxious to get back down to the Hogsback at this time as I was a bit worried about rockfall. Nick's group briefly considered whether they should rope up or not for the descent. Three members of the group, including Nick, were for roping up. I told them I didn't need to be roped up in their group and then the one member of Nick's group that had the rope decided he didn't want to rope up either. Since he was the one with the rope, all 5 of us headed down through the Pearly Gates unroped.

While we were making our way down the to bergschrund, there were groups still ascending. I thought this was a bit late in the morning but hey, if they want to go up, who am I to stop them? We had to stop several times and move aside for groups to pass us. While it was steepest just below the Pearly Gates, the sharpest corner was rounding the western corner of the bergschrund. Normally the climbing path would be to climber's right (east) of the bergscrund over Devil's Kitchen, however, this year the path was to climber's left (west). As we made our way down, one of the people in Nick's party led the way, I was second, and Nick was third followed by the two others. I had made it to the last turn before heading down the Hogsback at about 9:30am when I heard some loud yelling behind me. Quickly turning around, I saw Nick falling head over heels down the slope. He had been just below the sharp turn at the western end of the bergschrund and was now sliding down a 60° slope. His climber friends behind him were yelling "Dig in with your heels!!!" as I just watched, stunned at the sight. He picked up more speed as he headed down and as I looked down to the two fumaroles I thought to myself, "oh, he's definately going to fall into one of those ... there's no way he's going to self-arrest now." Sure enough, he slid right into Fumarole #1 and disappeared from sight as if falling down a drain. I was stunned and shocked, frozen for a moment thinking "Oh...My...God...." but not really sure what to think. There were still a few groups down on the saddle of the Hogsback and below me. A few people pulled out their cell phones and started dialing 911 right away. My first thought was to make it down the saddle and then reassess.

2.4) The Rescue

When I got down to the saddle, a few people had already made their way out to Fumarole #1 to check on Nick. Luckily he was in a relatively safe location and conscious. He had landed on a snow bridge and was using an elbow to keep himself from sliding farther down into the fumarole. I snapped a few photos from the Hogsback and talked to other novices like me on the ridge. After a while, however, I was itching to get out there and see the situation myself. People were glissading over from higher up on the Hogsback so I thought it was pretty safe to venture out. There were about 15 of us who ended up participating in a rescue, however, I would have to say that Nick was extremely lucky to have Jim and Steve of Western Montana Search and Rescue, Dan of the US Army National Guard, and Diana Yaniro, another strong climber present. In another twist of coincidence, it turned out Diana goes to the same school of osteopathic medicine in Portland, OR as an elementary school classmate of mine. Although we had a lot of ropes, biners, and several pickets on the mountain, we didn't have enough pulleys to rig a Z-pulley system, however, we did have bodies. So after lowering in two ropes a number of us sat down in the snow, dug in our heels, and started pulling directly on the rope to get Nick out (like a tug of war). We had attached several prusik's just in case we slipped (we didn't). I was the one in front so got a good view as Diana guided Nick's body up out of the fumarole. When we got Nick on the snow, it was Dan's turn to take over and apply his medical knowledge. Two pickets were used to splint Nick's ankle which was broken during the landing.

At this time, the group that stayed on the mountain for the rescue was feeling pretty good. Nick was safe and we had gotten him out of the fumarole. It was probably about 10:30am at this point. The day, however, was not over by a longshot.

Stay Tuned for the Next Installment of this Trip Report ;-)

Same Bat Channel, but probably not the same Bat Time.

3) Mount Adams - South Spur - July 2-3, 2001

4) Epilogue


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