Climbers lost in whiteout talked down by PMR with cell phone & GPS

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sometime after 1:00 am on Sunday, February 4th the Clackamas County (OR) Sheriffs Office received a cell phone call from 2 climbers that were apparently lost due to whiteout conditions. PMR was notified and sent a small team up to Timberline to assess the situation, while another team was put on standby.

The climbers were cold, wet and unsure of their location. The climbers were able to talk to PMR via cell phone and were able to give clues about their location. PMR determined that the climbers were most likely at or near Zig Zag canyon and decided to talk the climbers in, rather than to send teams out to retrieve them. The climbers headed eastbound and came across a single climber who had also become disoriented in the whiteout, but was using his GPS trying to find his own way back. With PMR’s navigational assistance, all three climbers eventually walked back to Timberline Lodge, arriving shortly after 4:00 am.

There are inherent dangers and risk involved in mountain climbing. Weather conditions can change rapidly on Mt Hood, and can be particularly hazardous in the winter. The most common problem occurs when visibility becomes poor and climbers descend without the aid of map and compass, thinking that if they simply go back downhill, they will surely return to the Lodge. However, the fall line (route a ball will take if allowed to roll down a slope) from the base of Crater Rock to about the elevation of the top of the Palmer Ski Lift, does not fall toward Timberline Lodge to the south, but rather southwesterly in the direction of Zig Zag canyon and the cliffs of Mississippi Head.

PMR encourages climbers to study the maps in the climber’s registration room, as well as, carry a map, compass and GPS. It is also critical to remember to use these navigational instruments before one becomes lost, especially when in limited-visibility conditions.