Late Sunday afternoon, a 4-person team from Portland
Mountain Rescue located and rescued a group of five stranded climbers in a snow
cave high on stormy 11,239-foot Mount Hood.
The climbers, all from Portland-area climbing club
The Mazamas, had set out on Saturday to climb a challenging West face
route. However, the excursion took longer than expected and a strong
storm descended on the mountain before the subjects could get down to
safety. With darkness falling and heavy snow and high sustained winds
creating blizzard conditions, the climbers were unable to find the proper route
down the mountain. Rather than risking a nighttime descent or wandering
into avalanche terrain, the subjects decided to dig a snow cave near 11,100
feet to ride out the storm. That evening, when some of the men became
slightly hypothermic, the party decided to call 9-1-1 and request assistance.
The climbers were experienced mountaineers and carried three important safety
devices - a cell phone to call for help, a GPS receiver to give the exact
coordinates of their location and a Mountain Locator Unit (MLU) transmitter to
provide a second means of locating the party.
PMR carries a MLU receiver and regularly trains in its use for locating
climbers in trouble on Mount Hood.
An ice covered PMR rescuer battles the blizzard conditions.
The subjects and PMR rescuers gather before descending to safety.
One of the rescued climbers with evidence of the foul weather.
MLU's are rental devices that are unique to Mount
Hood. The program was started and is overseen by the Mountain Signal
Memorial Fund based in Portland, Oregon.
After receiving the emergency call Saturday evening, the
Clackamas County (OR) Sheriff mobilized a search and rescue (SAR)
mission and contacted PMR and the Reach and Treat (RAT) team from
American Medical Response. The two groups responded just after
midnight on Sunday morning, but the SAR Coordinator decided that waiting for
daylight was the best option. As a precaution, the SAR Coordinator also
mobilized multiple SAR units from the area, including
Corvallis Mountain Rescue,
Eugene Mountain Rescue,
Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue, the
Hood River Crag Rats and the
Washington County (OR) Sheriff's Office.
Just after 5:00 am, a
Timberline Lodge Sno-Cat loaded with PMR and AMR rescuers left for the
top of the ski area. From the staging area in the Palmer lift house at
8,540 feet, two PMR teams left for the upper reaches of the mountain. At
first light, a 4-person "hasty" team left with minimal equipment to attempt to
locate the subjects as quickly as possible. About 90 minutes later, a
6-person "support" team carrying technical rescue equipment and gear to battle
hypothermia left for the mountain's crater, about 1,000 vertical feet below the
summit. The AMR team remained behind with several PMR members waiting to
learn if the subjects needed medical treatment.
The strong storm, which blew in Saturday afternoon, had deposited 1-2 feet of
new snow over a sun-melted and rain-glazed base, making the upper mountain a
recipe for avalanche. The 4-person PMR team, consisting of Rescue Leader
Marty Johnson, Iain Morris, Mike Ochsner and Nick Pope, carefully assessed the
snow conditions of the upper mountain and chose a safe route to the Hogsback
ridge within Mount Hood's crater.
From the Hogsback, the PMR team used the climbers' GPS coordinates and the
audible signal of their MLU transmitter to quickly locate the snow cave.
The rescuers ascended through the Pearly Gates, near the summit, and West to
the subjects' shelter.
Fortunately, the 5 stranded climbers were ambulatory and able to descend the
standard climbing route with the help of the PMR hasty team. From there,
the group carefully navigated the Hogsback Ridge to just East of Crater Rock
and the waiting PMR support team. After energizing with some much needed
food and liquids, the entire group of 15 people descended the 2,500 vertical
feet to the Palmer lift house and a waiting Sno-Cat bound for the safety of
Due to the relatively good health of the subjects, the third rescue team,
composed of PMR rescuers and AMR paramedics, was able to turn back before they
reached the scene. None of the subjects required hospitalization.
PMR would like to note that, though weather conditions were far from
satisfactory, the climbers did exactly what they were supposed to do.
When extreme winter weather caught them off guard, the subjects hunkered down
in a snow cave and tried to wait out the weather. When the weather would
not break and the subjects became concerned about their health, they called for
Additionally, the fact that they had a cell phone to communicate with the
authorities and two means of locating their whereabouts - a GPS receiver and a
MLU transmitter - significantly shortened the time needed to complete this