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Another accident on Hood

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One of the best essays I've ever read regarding the issue of requiring climbers to pay for rescues was an editorial (I believe in the Tacoma paper) several years ago by then Superintendent of MRNP, Jon Jarvis. I couldn't find this article hosted online anywhere, so I hope that Mr. Jarvis doesn't mind me posting it here.


Managing Risk on Mount Rainier

Guest Editorial by Jon Jarvis

Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park



The most recent tragedies on Mount Rainier and Mount Hood remind us that climbing season is here and with it comes risk. Also come the questions of "how could this have been prevented, who let those people climb to their deaths, and why should the tax payer foot the bill for the rescue?" As the Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, I respond to these questions each time we activate our highly trained teams to either rescue or recover those who get into trouble on this great mountain. These good questions deserve thoughtful answers.


First, let me speak to prevention. We expend a great deal of effort in educating the prospective climber about the inherent risks of mountaineering. We talk with them during their permit registration, we gain some understanding of their experience, their plans and their chosen route. We inform them of specific risks of the route, of current snow and weather conditions, of proper equipment, and the skills they need. If we sense they may be attempting a route well beyond their skill, we will recommend a different route. If they are a true novice, then we steer them to one of our concessioner guided trips or training days with groups such as the Mountaineers. But ultimately, it is their decision, and we will not deny them the right to climb, for the mountain is public land and we believe our responsibility is to educate them about the risk but not deny access.


The second part of the question often posed is something like "if the mountain is so risky, why don't you just close it, particularly during big storms?" As a 14,410 foot glaciated peak, Mount Rainier is always dangerous regardless of the weather. Mount Rainier even creates its own weather. If we did "close it" (which would be practically impossible) for some set of safety considerations, under what circumstances would we reopen it, since it is always dangerous? By the act of "reopening" the mountain that has been closed, we would be implying to the public that it is now "safe" to climb.


The last question, and perhaps the most frequently asked is "why the taxpayer should foot the bill for rescuing those people who, by choice, subject themselves to a known risk?" The first part of the answer is to examine for whom we, as public land managers, spend most of the taxpayers' money searching. Statistically, on a national scale, and even here at Mount Rainier, we spend more money searching for the lost hiker in the forest, or the child who walks away from a drive-in campground, than we do for the mountaineer. The most expensive search in Mount Rainier's recent history was for Joe Wood, Jr., the writer who disappeared in the lower forests of the park in 1999 (and was not found). The risk mountaineers face is often one they have calculated, trained for, experienced in the past, and have brought along a lot of equipment to specifically help them survive. A visitor who heads off into the forest without even a jacket, food, water or any of the other ten essentials is actually taking on a higher risk than the risk faced by the mountaineer. Poorly equipped to survive a dramatic change in weather, subject to hypothermia, this hiker is also facing a risk by choice. We cannot single out any one group, such as the climbers, and say that they should pay for their rescue and not apply the standard to everyone who is lost.


The second part of the answer, is that as the responsible officials for initiating the rescue and also for making the very tough decision to stop a search before a person has been found, we do not want "ability to pay" to be a factor in those decisions. Nor do we want "ability to pay" to be a factor in the visitor's decision to ask for our teams to rescue them. Imagine the scenario of a visitor in the forest, out of food, cold, wet and lost, with a cell phone, worried that they may be facing a bill for tens of thousands of dollars, reluctant to call for help, waiting perhaps until it is too late. Imagine too the climbers in trouble, worried about the bill for a rescue, waiting until their physical condition and the weather get horrendous to call for help, forcing our teams to respond in the worst possible situation. We use many factors to both launch and to suspend a search, and they are all about risk, probability of survival, probability of success, our teams' capabilities and fatigue, and the capabilities of our cooperators like the military helicopters. But not cost. To put cost into the formula would require that our teams search harder and longer for those that have the money than those who do not. Mount Rainier is a great equalizer, the risks are shared by everyone, regardless of their financial status.


Mount Rainier National Park is a gift to us all, set aside for our preservation and enjoyment over 100 years ago, still wild today, offering a range of risks for each of us to experience. It is your responsibility to learn about those risks, whether they come from a day hike to Comet Falls or an independent summit bid, and it is our responsibility to help you learn how to experience the park with an appreciation of those risks. But also, should you get in trouble, whether by your own fault or the tricks of nature, one of the finest rescue teams in North America will be gearing up and we won't be asking for your credit card number.

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"The last question, and perhaps the most frequently asked is "why the taxpayer should foot the bill for rescuing those people who, by choice, subject themselves to a known risk?"


Last time I checked, driving your car on the freeway was a "known risk".

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I just went back and re-read the first page of this mess. I was a little sad to find that of all the posts on the first page on 6 offered any words on encouragement. It only took a few posts for the scarcasm and and slander to start up. Kind of cold if you ask me. Especially when no one really knows what had happened or what was happending at the time. I'm glad everyone came out OK.


Now that we have a better idea of what happend I think the general tone of what I have read here is a bit harsh on the climibers involed. From what I have read it sounds like many of you think they are complete idiots and did everything wrong. I started thinking about it last night and don't completely really agree with that. I think they made one big error and some poor or questionable decisions. What information I have comes from here and (gulp) the TV news. It sounds like they where well prepared with equipment. They had enough spend two nights out in relative safety. They had MLS, Cell phone, GPS, and Compas. I don't know if they ahd a map or not but I assume they did. Sounds like they where well prepared in the equipment department, good for them. It is not clear to me if they had a good weather forcast or not. If they did, fine. If they did not, shame on them. Assuming they did know that weather was coming in, to navigate down to timberline lodge from ilumination saddle in bad conditions is not that unreasonable. There is no technical terain between the two. you would have to get quite a bit off course to get into trouble. To go up knowing what is coming in and knowing you are prepared for it may not be the safest decision but is not that unreasonable. To me it sounds like their downfall was naviagtion. Trying to find the top of the palmer lift in a white out is a bad idea. If you are off by even a very very small margin you are going to walk right by it and not even know it. You could even miss it to the down hill side, walk right under the lift and not even know it. If you look at a map and draw a line from ilumination rock to the top of palmer it will quickly become obvious where you will end up when you miss the lift. A more direct route back to the lodge would have been a better idea. Personally I would have shot for the top of the most westerly lift (I forgot the name). Once you hit the tree line you head east. What mistakes they made with their navigation equipment, I don't know. Maybe they don't understand declination, maybe they don't completely know how to use their GPS. It dosn't sound like they where very good at navigating. Once the accident happend and they decided that they where in over their heads they called for help. Remember they they are spit up in to two groups now not knowing where or what has happened to the other group. Once they contacted SAR they did what they where told.


I question if they are catching extra flack here because of the media attention. What happend to them is not that extrordinary.


I figure I'll probably get flamed for this but oh well . . .

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That is a timely post of a superb "editorial". Thanks!


I hope the media folks reading this take home the message and file it away for the next time we have a rescue incident.

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It cost more than $20,000 to Clackamas and Hood River county taxpayers for this latest Mt. Hood rescue.


Guess it's time to start requiring permits and fees to climb Hood to offset these numerous rescue costs.




Here's some stats from Oregon Office of Emergency Management showing % of rescues for certain groups.

Vehicle, ATV's, snowmobiles 20.5%

Hikers 13.8%

Wanderers (Hiking without fixed destination 10.1%

Hunting 9.4%

Boating 6.4%

Suicides 5.5%

Swimming 4.2%

Aircraft 3.7%

Climbing 3.4%

Mushroom Picking 3.0%

Other 20.0%


As you can see SAR op's for climbers are a very small percentage of the total.


In America we will attempt to rescue you from any situation you get into. We will rescue you from your burning home you lit on fire while smoking in bed. We will rescue you from your drug overdose. If you rob a bank and get shot we will rescue you. We will try to save your life after you crash your car while shit-face drunk. And we do all this and more, free of charge. Most all of these situations will be supported by paid personel such as firefighters, EMT's, & paramedics. If you need a rescue on a mountain, outside of a National Park, you will be rescued by a voluteer organization supported by donations; such as Portland Mountain Resuce and/or other similar organizations.


Why are you singling out climbers to pay for their rescue costs. Would it not be fair to have everyone pay for their rescue costs?

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I beleive that the amount you should pay be related to the risk you assume.Walking down the side walk is considered low risk, so we might bill the taxpayers for such a rescue. Attempting Mt. hood in midwinter, with a big storm forecast, sans down jackets, bags and stoves might be considered high risk. In that case the estate might be billed the full amount. In my case, I led a group up a big one and through my stupidity caused an accident. We each payed $600 in 1970 dollars for the cost of the rescue. I remember being stuck up there, knowing we were liable, thinking, just rescue me, I don't care what the cost is.

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Some of the BIG differences between then and now:


You probably did not believe you were due a rescue


You owned your responsibility


You didn't hold that society should pay for what you owned

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I just had knee surgery and can't sleep at 4 am, so I thought I'd flog this thread a bit more.


I have to agree with SnailEye, for the most part. This party deserves kudos for keeping their shit together and making it through some nasty stuff, could have easily turned into a body recover. However, I have a problem with thoughts expressed like the one the sheriff was quoted in the news;"They did everything right." Um, no, they didn't. They were obviously off route, so I am going to make an assumption that they made a navigation error.

I have sat on Hood at 9,000 feet through the night in a blinding snowstorm (gear testing for Denali) with a partner, and I've also soloed it in the Summer in absolutely ideal conditions, among other climbs there, so I feel like I have a bit of experience in varied conditions there.

Navigation is the single biggest weakness for most climbers, I think. People don't take it seriously. This party even had a GPS. WTF? So how did they get off route. I've had to nav down off big mountains in blinding, dark whiteouts too many times, whether or not I should have even allowed my self to end up in a situation like that is another argument, but the important part is that I take the navigation seriously and can find my way back.

Even on Hood I plot out my ascending and descending bearings before the trip, including alternate descent bearings for a bail out route.

Seriously, any relatively experienced climber in the PNW should know that you should feel confident about navigating with total lack of visibility. If not then you put yourself and others at risk.

And Hood, like SnailEye mentioned is an easy navigational descent, I mean it really doesn't get any easier than that.

Saying they did everything right because they had the right gear for surviving is like saying a driver did everything right because he was wearing a seat belt and survived a crash that he caused through his own negligence. It gives the impression to everyone who saw that quote in the media that as long as you have all the gear you need then you'll be fine, doesn't say anything about having the skill to use it.

I taught land nav in the army years ago. We had this geat practice technique where you were at point A on a map and given coordinates for point B. You had to use a simple topo map and compass to plot a route from A to B, including anticipating route changes in terrain, and distance. You then used the map and compass (no altimeter)to travel the route that you plotted, counting your steps to estimate distance, with a partner by your side. The kicker is that you had a gunny sack over you with a flashlight to see your map and compass, and you could only see your feet.

Learn how to navigate succesfully that way, throw in severe cold, wind, snow, fatigue, panic, etc. and you are ready to navigate in the mountains, especially the Cascades in Winter.


To the climbing party: Excellent job keeping your shit together, but it sounded in the reports like "stuff happens," and no one fessed up to a mistake. Figure out what your mistake was and let us all know so we can all learn from it. No insults intended.


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It wasn't just two women, don't forget the dog. And speaking of the dog, did she have her own sleeping bag?? If not, it should be a requirement for all canine climbers.


So what *is* the recommended list of 10 canine essentials? Certainly they don't need a map or compass. Maybe the Swiss had it right when they put that mini-cask of spirits round the neck of the St. Bernards.


Lest anyone think I'm spraying, I'll state that I have mixed feelings on the presence of dogs in the BC, esp in this case. "Working dogs" have a long history of BC utility...many are still used today for SAR, herding, hunting, protection, etc. This doesn't appear to be a case where the dog had any purpose or reason for being exposed to the risks it was.


My 'off-the-cuff' conclusions are that it's not a simple decision to take an animal into the BC. The one responsible for the animal should ensure the animal is well-equipped and protected. I don't think the potential for animal abuse charges should be overlooked in this instance where the animal ended up an accident victim for no other purpose than to 'be along for the walk'.

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