|Depending on where the accident happens, a rescue climber can get from wherever they are to the victim in five to eight hours. Photo: Portland Mountain Rescue|
On a clear day at Council Crest Park, one can spot the snow-capped peaks of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, Mount Ranier and Mount St. Helens. Though St Helen’s compatriots will also eventually blow and cause catastrophic pyroclastic flows into populated parts of region, it is the the allure of reaching the top that regularly harms humans every year when climbers slip and fall.
Thankfully, outfits like Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) exist to save fallen climbers – a job that only the best of climbers in this region of alpinists can do.
Silent sentinel of the Hood River Valley, Mount Hood is prime for climbing in June.
“Snowpiles pack up against the cliffs; makes it less steep,” PMR President Scott Norton said. “The conditions are just right.” Later in the season, “there’s not enough snow and the rocks are crumbly. Earlier on, it’s too stormy.”
Thousands of people climb Mount Hood safely each year, stepping up to the 11,239-foot summit, the highest point in Oregon. One to Watch has video of what it looks like, courtesy of StimeClimb.
During this time, more people ascend the “hogsback” route – a popular southern approach so-called for the porcine snow formation near the top – and more people have accidents, human made or otherwise.
PMR can activate any of its 60 all-volunteer, field deployable climbers through a simple text message. Depending on where the accident happens, a rescue climber can get from wherever they are to the victim in five to eight hours after getting the activation text.
“The margins of safety are increased,” Norton said. “If the fallen climber weighs 200 pounds, the rope is rated at 2,000 pounds.” Typically, somebody will fall and break their leg. In that event, PMR tries to send at least 10 people up there to get them.
Getting in that exclusive texting list takes time. Every two years, PMR takes applications from interested and most importantly, experienced climbers. Once vetted, the potential rescuers have to pass tryouts. What follows is two years of rescue climbing training including specialized anchoring and rope techniques to secure fallen climbers.
Though many think mountain rescuing means climbers rappelling out of choppers, “We only use helicopters about one in five times,” Norton said. If air rescues are needed on Mount Hood and PMR is called, the regional National Guard lends the use of its helicopters.
Because of the public outcry over the deaths of climbers on Mount Hood in the past five years, many have advocated for the mandatory use of mountain locater beacons. Portable devices that one can rent for $5 at shops at the base of Mount Hood, they help rescuers locate fallen climbers. However, PMR is wary of mandating the devices.
“People just can’t push a button and expect ninjas to jump out of helicopters,” Norton said. If people rely too much on technology, he said, they will not pay attention to some of the most basic ways to prevent accidents in the first place, such as having the appropriate equipment and paying attention to weather patterns.
Until it finally does blow, Mount Hood will continue to attract daring climbers who will have accidents unless properly prepared and lucky in good weather. Though the weather changes constantly on the mountain, one thing for certain is that trained rescuers will follow in the climbers’ wake.