PMR Assists Climber Injured by Rockfall Near the Sandy
June 28, 2009
On Sunday, June 28, two climbers were ascending Mt. Hood by the Sandy Glacier
Headwall route when a falling rock struck one of them on the upper leg,
fracturing his femur. The injured climber's partner moved him to a safer
location, left him with food, gear and water, and headed toward the Timberline
ski area in search of help. En route, he encountered a member of Portland
Mountain Rescue, who notified the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and
initiated a formal PMR mission.
Fortunately for the injured climber, the Mountain Rescue Association was
celebrating its 50th anniversary with meetings and training session at
Timberline Lodge that weekend, so numerous PMR volunteers – and the unit's
truck laden with rescue gear – were already nearby.
Supplemented by volunteers from other mountain rescue teams from across the
continent, the PMR-led rescue team, including two past presidents of the
national association, quickly set up a base at Lolo Pass. One field team
immediately began climbing toward the injured climber. A BlackHawk helicopter
from the Oregon National Guard's 1042nd Medical Evacuation Company then became
available and leapfrogged a second team of four rescuers, with medical and
evacuation gear, directly to the 9,000' elevation. That team reached the
patient at about 12:15 pm. Together with an American Medical Response ("AMR")
Reach-And-Treat paramedic and an Army medic from the helicopter's crew, they
stabilized the patient, applied a traction splint to his injured leg, and
secured him into a litter. The patient and the two medics then were hoisted by
cable into the hovering helicopter, which delivered the patient safely to
Legacy Emanuel Hospital at approximately 2:00 pm.
Once the patient had been evacuated, the PMR teams gathered their gear, cleaned
the area, and descended the mountain on foot via the Sandy Glacier, Timberline
Trail, and Top Spur Trail, reporting safely back to base by 7 pm.
The Sandy Glacier Headwall route, like all steeper headwall routes on Mt. Hood,
deteriorates rapidly in quality at the end of Spring. As large, unstable rock
cliffs become exposed, the route and access traverse around Yocum Ridge can
become dangerously exposed to rockfall, particularly in the morning when the
sun first hits the cliffs near the summit. This is not the first serious
rockfall incident in this location. A month or two earlier, these climbers
would have experienced better snow conditions, faster travel, better
opportunities for protection, and less rockfall -- and this accident would have
been much less likely to occur. June finds most of the intermediate to advanced
climbs on Mt. Hood to be "out of condition," requiring climbing parties to be
willing to count on a bit of luck to avoid objective hazards like the rockfall
that injured the climber here.