ON MOUNT HOOD, Ore. (KOIN) — A climber who fell between 700 to 1,000 feet on Mount Hood and was airlifted to a hospital died while other climbers were rescued hours later from the treacherous conditions.
In a media briefing around 7 p.m., Sgt. Brian Jensen of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said there was some confusion earlier in the day about the total number of climbers and where they were and the combination of groups involved.
There were 2 groups — a group of 4 and a group of 3 climbers.
In the group of 4, one man fell to his death and another woman was seriously injured, Jensen said. She was unable to walk and couldn’t physically move, so she was roped down slowly by rescuers to Palmer, where she was picked up and transported for treatment.
The other 2 climbers in that group are upset and physically exhausted, he told KOIN 6 News. But no other climbers that he knows of need help.
Around 6:45 p.m., the second group of 3 climbers made it safely off the mountain under their own power. They were escorted by rescuers but were fine, Jensen said.
Late Tuesday afternoon rescuers reached those climbers at the 10,500-foot elevation and began preparations to help them down the mountain.
Another climber who turned back from the areas told KOIN 6 News the mountain “was like a layer of ice that had frozen on top of another layer of thicker ice. We were trying to get tools in and you couldn’t get security from it and it was just breaking off and crumbling. It was so hard and steep that even experienced climbers are having a hard time.”
In the first group, 4 climbers were stranded and one was injured. But “we’ve lost contact with the group who is stranded,” Jensen told KOIN 6 News, adding that “ice is falling on them” which is preventing them from leaving.
Communication was re-established with the stranded group, Jensen said in mid-afternoon. One of them has a non-life threatening injury and they have enough food and water for a day. They’ve been told to stay in place as rescuers assess the information with the falling rock and fallen ice.
Above them are another 3 climbers who are making their way to Hogsback, he said, but added, “I don’t know if other climbers are above them.”
Jensen said the area is “treacherous” with “falling rock and ice.”
On the backside of Hogsback, another climber fell 700 to 1,000 feet near the main chutes of the upper crater. Jensen said 2 eyewitnesses called for help immediately, and other climbers got to the man — believed to be in his 30s — and began to render aid.
“There are 4 or 5 climbers around him, giving him CPR,” said Scott Lucas with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. “We have the Army Aviation, the Oregon National Guard, they are getting their crew together to fly up on a rescue mission and hoist him up, get him back to a medical facility.”
The climber was airlifted by the Oregon National Guard shortly before 2 p.m. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said the male climber was in critical condition at that time, but officials later said he was pronounced dead upon arrival at Legacy Emanuel Hospital.
Rescue operation in place
“Clackamas County Search and Rescue, they are in charge of the rescue after we make the rescue of the injured party,” Lucas said.
The other climbers will be assisted by Mountain Rescue or the ski patrol, Lucas said.
The rescue operation took the better part of the afternoon and Jensen said they were “waiting for other search and rescue elements” to arrive at the mountain.
“Once they get geared up and briefed, they will head up the mountain,” Jensen said.
Rescuers are battling many elements, including time, the onset of night, the daytime sun and heat and other hazardous conditions.
“The ground itself is like pavement,” he said. “It’s rock solid.”
Other agencies involved in the rescue
Crews from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, Mountain Wave Search and Rescue and the Oregon Air National Guard are responding.
There are about 40 rescuers in all involved in the operation. Major Chris Bernard of the 304th Rescue Squadron said they are among the most “highly trained rescue specialists in the world.”
Captain Stephen Bomar with the Oregon National Guard told KOIN 6 News ground crews were working
Captain Stephen Bomar with the Oregon National Guard told KOIN 6 News ground crews were working their way toward the fallen climber.
“There was a request to have the Oregon National Guard provide its Blackhawk helicopter to hoist the individual out, if at all possible,” Bomar said around 12:15 p.m.
Hogsback is at an elevation of 10,500 feet, almost to the top of Mount Hood, which is 11,239 feet.
Conditions on the mountain vary but the past few days have been sunny, which means ice and snow are melting. It’s unclear if current conditions played a role in the fall.
Jensen said people who climb the mountain should be able to enjoy it, but they need to exercise common sense.
“This isn’t your backyard hill,” he said. “This is a mountain that is deadly.”