The mountain will eat you

Oregon has been in the news a lot the last month as a place where you can die alone in the snow. In Portland you’re more likely to get a little chilly in the rain and then go inside for a drink, but we have Big Mountains in the middle of the state, and Little Mountains to the sides. Portland misses the worst weather by being in the wet valley in between.

Given the amount of finger pointing I saw when the Kim family went missing (over the highway maps, the unlocked gate on the road, signs that suggest the road they were on was a legitimate scenic route, etc), I can’t figure out why the news reports on the three lost climbers this last week haven’t bothered to mention that Mt. Hood can be dangerous year-round, and deciding to climb the most difficult route in December with minimal gear and no emergency locater beacon is the kind of stupid plan that just begs for something to go wrong.

Even experienced climbers get turned back due to weather, even in the summer. The forest service has radio beacons available for climbers because people get stuck and lost up there every single year. It makes me angry to hear that search and rescue teams are out there risking their own safety to look for people who should have known better.

Here’s what the national forest service site has to say about climbing Mt. Hood in fall or winter (and this info is for the south route, the safer/easier one).

It is not the wisest time of year to climb unless you have exceptional mountaineer and climbing skills. I want to emphasize this because the mountain has yet again witnessed another rescue incident that could of totally been avoided. Mt. Hood is a technical mountain not to be taken lightly. Proper equipment is necessary to ensure your safety for example like a HELMET, CRAMPONS and ICE AXE to name a few.

It is unfortunate that Mt. Hood continues to get dismissed as an easy climb. To be honest it can be considered easy but for someone with proficient mountain skills and has several years of experience. But to someone with out any idea what they are getting into could be a serious undertaking. So be cautious and exercise good judgment. The mountain is always changing so you still need to be aware of the rock fall, crevasses, avalanches, lighting, wind, ice ect.

That the climbers are from Texas and New York fuels my suspicion that people from other parts of the country have no idea what the environment is really like out here. Yes, it rains, but it also snows, freezes over, floods, etc, and the wilderness is beautiful but hazardous. I love it out here, and I wish everyone would show a little more respect.

7 responses to “The mountain will eat you

  1. I agree with you completely. I certainly feel for the families who are waiting to find their loved ones, but the news keeps focusing on how they were such experienced climbers, who would know what to do in a situation like this. Sounds to me more like they were arrogant climbers who took unnecessary risk and were unprepared for the consequences. An experienced & wise climber would have taken steps to make sure something like this didn’t happen (eg, the beacons). I hope the rescuers who are doing so much at such personal risk are able to find them, soon.

  2. I came across your blog and felt compelled to provide a climber’s perspective. Based on everything I’ve read, these are experienced climbers with the skills and preparation to responsibly climb this route. Because of the potential for rock fall, this route is actually safest during the winter or early spring when the mountain is encased in snow and ice. It sounds like these climbers were prepared to spend several nights on the mountain. With the proper clothing/bivy equipment, a stove, and fuel, climbers can survive for several weeks in a snow cave. The unfolding drama appears to be due to an injury to one of the climbers and a stretch of very bad weather. For all we know, they are safely sheltered in snow caves waiting for the weather to break.

    Most climbers like to climb routes that are challanging but within their comfort zone. Some level of danger is usually an important part of the climbing experience. This is generally difficult for non-climbers to understand and is often considered unfair to their loved ones. I believe it’s just a reflection of the innate human need to explore our potential.

    Finally, when it comes to rescue, most climbers would obviously prefer to be rescued if necessary and would be willing to pay the cost of the rescue. However, most climbers do not want rescuers to take unreasonable risks to rescue them. Most rescuers are either paid emergency personnel or volunteer climbers who believe they are providing a worthwhile service and are willing to assume reasonable risks to save a life.

    The bottom line is that these climbers are not “stupid”, or “disrespectful” or “arrogant”. They are reasonable people that took a calculated risk and are now in a bad or terrible situation. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the weather breaks soon and they are safely rescued.

  3. Sure Scott, the worst winter strom on record in the Cascades, it has been going on for weeks and pull this stunt? Brilliant. The motto I and all I know in the outdoor life is live to climb another day. With all due respect they ought to have noted the weather. I grew up in the shadow of that mountain, I don’t give them 1 in 20…

  4. Is it terribly wrong of me that when I heard the story about the Kim family, and the father going out alone for help, my first thought was, “Wow. Fishy would never be that stupid.”

  5. Scott: I’ve been hiking and camping and skiing on Mt. Hood since I was a kid. I haven’t made it to the summit (yet), but I think I have enough wilderness experience to say there’s a line between testing your limits and putting yourself into a dangerous situation with little room for error.

    To me this is comparable to people who go rock climbing in remote areas alone. Sure, you make it out safe most of the time, but eventually someone finds out they have to choose between dying and sawing their own arm off to get off the rock, so wouldn’t it be better to plan for the worst and bring a climbing partner? When mistakes can mean death, don’t tempt your luck.

    It’s been a wet, stormy fall and winter, so even if the climbing route is better when frozen solid, why not wait until later in the winter when the weather tends to dry out? Or try again next year. My grandfather was a climbing instructor with the Mazamas for years, and they regularly scrapped plans to summit because the weather was too much of a risk. This seemed to happen a lot when they were on Mt. Hood.

    Michelle: I have much more sympathy for people without much wilderness experience, especially those who are unfamiliar with the area, when they end up overwhelmed by weather and bad road conditions. Most people don’t have the training to know how to handle that sort of situation, and hypothermia makes it impossible to think clearly. I’m sure this was compounded by seeing his family suffer without warm shelter or food.

    But just in case someone reading this doesn’t know: if you get lost, injured, or trapped by the weather, keep warm and sheltered as best as you can and stay put. Exposure and dehydration will kill you, but people who stay where they are get rescued most of the time.

  6. Audrey, you have said what I have been thinking for a couple days now. I am a little concerned about the way the media has leached on to both of these stories. Although I truly hope this has a happy ending, I fear how the media will make these guys heros for attempting something rather foolish, really dangerous, and forgetting (or plain choosing not) to use beacons.

    As someone who has worked in the outdoor industry for over twenty years, I respect the desire to challenge nature and the enviroment. I understand the need to explore and push yourself in the wilderness. It sounds like these guys had the skills and where prepared, except for one thing: where are the beacons? The push for beacons came to Mt. Hood after the accident of the Oregon Epsicopal School in 1986. I have met and talked to survivors, rescuers, and medical personel of that tragedy. Beacons could have saved their lives. I soon took classes on how to use beacons and wouldn’t leave home without it. I am concerned when people think that will never happen to them, so they don’t need one. I hope all turns out well for them.

  7. Deleted a spam comment. Grr.

    Everyone who isn’t a spambot: thanks for your responses. I was really starting to feel like this was something the media wasn’t willing to talk about (as kimo said, they tend to call people heroes even when their own actions got them into trouble in the first place), so I really appreciate everyone who took the time to comment.