News and information regarding PMR missions, events & activities.
On October 3, 2014, a 27 year-old male visiting from St. Louis set out from Timberline Lodge to climb Mt. Hood. The day was clear and unseasonably warm, and the individual was wearing only gym shorts, a T-shirt and running shoes. He had with him a warm hat and an insulated jacket. He had very limited climbing experience.
On his way up the mountain, he encountered a Chris Carter, a climber who was descending. Mr. Carter observed that the subject was lightly equipped. He exchanged cell phone numbers with the subject. He also took a photograph of the subject as he began ascending the southwest gulley on Crater Rock (see below).
The subject apparently climbed to a point in the gulley where he did not feel he could safely go further up or descend. He eventually called Mr. Carter and explained his predicament. Mr. Carter then called 911 and reported the subject’s call for help and his limited equipment. After the call to Mr. Carter, the subject’s cell phone batteries died.
Around 6:30 p.m., the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office requested Portland Mountain Rescue to rescue the climber. By 9:15 p.m., a PMR team of five rescuers and two AMR Reach and Treat medics left Timberline. They were transported first by truck and then by snow cat to the top of the Palmer Lift. Under clear skies, they ascended to Crater Rock. Aided by the photographs provided by Mr. Carter and a bright moon, they located the subject. Approaching the subject required climbing in the dark through an area with dangerous rock fall potential. Two rescuers climbed to the subject’s position and reached him around 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
The subject had moved from the gulley to a slightly more secure point and hunkered down behind some old boards he found near the historic engine left many years ago on the mountain. Temperatures were in the low 40’s or high 30’s, so the subject was cold, but had no injuries. The rescuers warmed him with a heating blanket and provided him food, warm clothing, a helmet and a harness. They then helped him around Crater Rock to the standard south side climbing route.
The remaining rescuers rappelled from a point lower on Crater Rock, and the groups reunited below Triangle Moraine. They escorted the subject to the top of the Palmer Lift by 2:30 a.m. and arrived at Timberline Lodge at 3:15 a.m. Saturday morning.
The subject was very fortunate that he encountered Mr. Carter earlier in the day and that Mr. Carter thought to photograph the subject’s position in the southwest gulley on Crater Rock. Otherwise, the subject could have been extremely difficult to locate. The subject is also fortunate that unseasonably warm and fair conditions prevailed through the night.
In September 2013, two friends were exploring the Big Lava Flow south of Goose Lake in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. They were searching for a lave cave amongst the exposed lava flow. The two became separated and the surviving friend was unable to find the missing friend. The search effort was eventually terminated in 2013 with the missing individual presumed to be deceased.
During the week of September 8, 2014, the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office planned a new search of the area and requested Portland Mountain Rescue to assist in the difficult terrain. On the first day PMR lead two teams totaling 37 searchers from many regional search and rescue units. They completed a coarse grid search of a large portion of two search units near where the subject was last seen. On the second day, PMR lead a single team of 21 searchers from three regional search and rescue units. They performed grid searches immediately around the point where the subject was last seen.
During these searches, we were reminded of how difficult navigation can be in rough terrain like an exposed lava flow. We also were reminded how easy it can be to stumble and suffer serious injuries around rough lava rocks. Such areas are beautiful and worth exploring, but only for experienced back country users with excellent navigation skills, and then only if they stay close together.
On July 12, 2014, Edwin Birch (64) and his son Zack Birch (37) started a day hike of a section of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. Edwin dropped off Zack at the Summerland Trailhead, from which Zack hiked south alone. Edwin drove on to the Olallie Creek Trailhead, where he parked the car and proceeded to hike north. The two planned to meet on the trail, transfer the car keys to Zack and then rendezvous where Edwin would exit at the Summerland Trailhead. They met at the Ohanapecosh Park area and then continued on their separate ways. Zack made it to the Olallie Creek Trailhead around midnight and then drove the car to the Summerland Trailhead, but his father never arrived. He reported his father missing around 1:30 on the morning of July 13.
On July 14, Mt. Rainier National Park request assistance from Portland Mountain Rescue. PMR deployed a team of four rescuers early on July 15. From the Sunrise parking area, a Chinook helicopter transported the PMR team to the Ohanapecosh Park area. After commencing a search of their assigned area, the PMR team was reassigned to another area. This required an overnight bivouac and bushwhacking through difficult terrain. Completing this assignment consumed the full extent of daylight on July 15. The team finally made it out to a road for pickup around 8:30 p.m. that night.
Meanwhile a second PMR team of two searchers reported to the search area on July 15. They joined a rescuer from Seattle Mountain Rescue and another from Central Washington Mountain Rescue to attempt a search an area near the Ohanapecosh River. Due to difficult terrain and bushwhacking, they were unable to reach their final objective, but searched a possible exit route for the subject. They were out of the field around 8:00 on July 15.
After additional days of searching Edwin Birch has not been found. The National Park Service has transitioned to a “limited continuous search”. PMR encourages hikers who become lost to back track if they can confidently do so. If you cannot confidently backtrack and you know someone will be looking for you in the general area, stay put or move to an area that is higher or clear where you can be easily seen or heard. Traveling off trail can be dangerous, doing it alone is even more dangerous, especially with the added stress of feeling lost.
On June 1, 2014, three friends summited Mt. Hood in favorable conditions. On the descent, one of the of climbers, a 36 year-old woman, was overcome with severe abdominal pains. As they descended to the east side of Crater Rock, the pain was too severe for her to move further. Her companions called 911 for emergency assistance. At approximately 11:00 a.m., the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office requested Portland Mountain Rescue to mobilize and evacuate the climber. The CCSO also requested AMR to send its reach and treat team to provide emergency medical care.
Two AMR medics departed Timberline Lodge at approximately 1:30 p.m. The first PMR team of six rescuers left Timberline 15 minutes later with equipment for the evacuation. A second PMR team of 3 rescuers left Timberline Lodge around 2:30 p.m. AMR reached the patient first around 3:45 p.m. and administered emergency care to stabilize her. PMR had the patient packaged and ready to move around 4:30 p.m.
Using a rope belay from snow anchors, PMR rescuers lowered the patient approximately 750 vertical feet. From there, they were able to guide the litter without the need for a rope belay. Due to excellent conditions, PMR delivered the patient to a snow cat at the top of the Palmer lift in only 30 minutes. The snow cat carried the patient to Timberline Lodge where she was loaded into an ambulance for transport to a Portland hospital around 5:45 p.m. She was released from the hospital later that day and has made a full recovery.
This mission is a great reminder that medical emergencies can happen at any time and any place. PMR urges backcountry travelers to always be prepared with food and shelter to survive for at least 24 hours. In this case, the patient was evacuated quickly in less than seven hours. Typically, evacuations from the crater area of Mt. Hood take more than eight hours from the time help is requested. Evacuations from more remote areas or in poor conditions can take much longer.
Around 8:45 a.m. on May 24, 2014, a 59-year old male climber fell while descending the Old Chute on the south side of the summit ridge on Mt. Hood. The climber fell several hundred feet down the steep slope of the upper crater. A fumarole known as Hot Rocks is located in the bottom of the crater west of the Hogsback. A fumarole is an area where volcanic gases are vented from rocks or soil to the atmosphere. Heat from this fumarole had melted the deep snow pack and created a large hole or sloping tunnel. The climber fell far into this hole and sustained multiple injuries. He was conscious, but was unable to move on his own.
During the peak climbing season, Portland Mountain Rescue tries to field small teams on the mountain (called ready teams) to promote climbing safety and to be prepared for emergencies. That day, PMR had a ready team of four rescuers lower on the mountain. A descending climber alerted the ready team about the fallen climber around 9:30 a.m. They immediately proceeded up the mountain and reached the fumarole around 10:00 a.m. At the same time a group of 11 PMR rescuers were participating in an advanced rigging training course at Timberline Lodge. Through the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, these rescuers also were quickly mobilized to haul equipment up the mountain to package and transport the patient.
From outside the fumarole tunnel, the ready team was able to make voice contact with the patient. Fumaroles in an enclosed area, such as a snow tunnel can accumulate toxic gases that can quickly overcome rescuers and result in permanent nerve damage or death. Based on the patient’s responsiveness, the ready team determined to cautiously send one rescuer into the fumarole tunnel. He found the patient about 100 feet inside the sloping tunnel and with life threatening injuries.
Given the patient’s condition and dangerous environment, the ready team determined to extract the patient without a litter (which another PMR team was still hauling up the mountain). The ready team enlisted technical gear and assistance from nearby climbers to construct and operate a twin-tensioned rope system to gingerly raise the patient from the fumarole tunnel. Shortly after the patient was extracted, additional PMR teams arrived with equipment to stabilize and package the patient for transport. AMR’s Reach and Treat Team arrived shortly afterwards, and PMR transferred patient care to AMR around 11:30 a.m.
PMR then used a rope system to raise the patient to the Hogsback and to lower him to a suitable landing zone on the east side of the Hogsback in an area known as the Devil’s Kitchen. Shortly after 2:00 p.m. the patient was loaded into a Blackhawk Helicopter from the Oregon Army National Guard 1042nd Air Ambulance Company, which flew him to Emmanuel Hospital in Portland. All PMR rescuers were safely out of the field by 4:00 p.m.
The upper crater slopes of Mt. Hood are dangerous and, in most conditions, require advanced mountaineering skills and technical equipment to climb safely. Falls from the upper chutes are far too common. This mission presented an additional complication of unknown conditions in the fumarole tunnel. This climber was fortunate to have survived the initial fall and the fall into the fumarole and that the fumarole was ventilated well enough that toxic gases had not accumulated at fatal levels. Climbers in steep terrain should evaluate the condition of snow to determine how difficult it may be to self-arrest if they fall, and they should consider whether a fall would send them in the direction of even more danger, such as a cliff or a fumarole. PMR sends its thanks to the many climbers who generously donated equipment and who eagerly assisted our ready team during the extraction effort.