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Zeta Male

"Accidents in North American Mountaineering 2007"

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Folks,

 

Some of may remember an accident occurring on Mt. Hood in December, 2006 involving three climbers who flew in from Dallas and New York City to climb Mt. Hood out of Cooper Spur over the weekend. Only one of their bodies has ever been found.

 

Having followed the search in here I've wanted to follow up on what went wrong. Some posts in the discussion in here assured those interested that the accident would be covered in full in the AAC's "Accidents in North American Mountaineering". I've not seen the 2007 edition of that book and it isn't perusable on-line. Have you seen the write-up of the noted accident in the 2007 edition? Does the write-up go into much detail - how many pages does it cover?

 

I've searched the forums here for references to the write-up; I haven't found anything - is that a consequence of my search skills or was there no post-write-up discussion in here?

 

EP

Oregon and Texas

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There's about four pages in the 2007 AINAM about the accident.

perhaps you could scan them in or give us your condensded version?

 

i imagine it'll be along the lines of:

- starting too late/not turning around in time

- too large a group

- improperly supplied

- lack of familiarity w/ descent path

- weather

 

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Actually, Mkporwit, you may wanna hold off on the scanning since I may have found something better here: http://traditionalmountaineering.org/Report_MtHood_NorthFace_Winter.htm#more - a revised version of the report by one Jeff Sheets published in ANAM.

 

After skimming it, I find the episode to still be a mystery:

 

- why the climber that was found in the snow-cave was left there uninjured (except for possible hypothermia or some such) without the ability to survive in it for very long (I know they left most of their gear at base camp, but why didn't he at least have the foam pad that was found at the belay point from which the other two climbers disappeared?). Like the published post-mortem says, perhaps all three of them tried to go back the way they came, two of them were swept away and the one whose body was found became distraught and retreated to the snow-cave, but it also seems possible that he developed a serious disagreement with the other two about how best to proceed once the storm set in, so they left without him while he chose to wait out the storm and then continue with plan A.

 

- why did such experienced climbers attempt such a perilous route on a fast-and-light basis with such little apparent margin for error, given that they were unfamiliar with the route and a severe storm was known to be approaching? I don't really have a problem with them attempting the climb at the time of year they did, nor with the fast-and-lite basis under which they proceeded, but I don't understand why they didn't allow for the possibility that something might go seriously wrong and consume a serious amount of time, and allow and prepare for that i.e. take up the mountain the gear that would allow them to at least survive for a spell in a snow cave, and go no farther without that gear than they could be virtually certain of getting back to in daylight.

 

- why didn't they consider the possibility of encountering white-out conditions and accordingly have a topo map of the summit with the descent route(s) pre-plotted and compass bearings identified that would get them started (and finished, for that matter) on their planned descent to Timberline (or at least to the top of the Palmer lift)? What planning they did for their climb seems to have been lacking in rigor.

 

It seems to me that they didn't really consider and allow for the possibility that plan A (descending to Timberline) would become non-viable, and they didn't really appreciate how non-viable plan B (going back the way they came) would be under those same conditions once they were SOL with plan A. So, in the end they were just SOL given their abilities and what little else they'd brought with them to the summit.

 

I'm just not convinced that plan B was ever preferable to plan A under the circumstances. To me this episode speaks strongly about how people with considerable technical knowledge can become overconfident and lack the wisdom and judgement needed for the task at hand. While hindsight and a little experience with this particular mountain - both of which the climbing party at hand were lacking - make all the difference, who's gonna take care of their kids now?

 

For me, what I take from this is: give serious consideration to the question, "What's the worst that could happen?" and prepare accordingly, and forget the "Jet in, attempt a difficult climb of an unfamiliar mountain without a guide, and jet out on a tight schedule" approach. When attempting an unfamiliar, difficult route on a tight schedule, hire a local guide first (remember the whole "trying to find a climbing map" at the beginning of all this?). Multiply the aforesaid by a factor of two for each dependent child each member of the climbing party has.

Edited by Zeta Male

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"[T]oo large [of] a group" (per Ivan)? Why would that be cited? There were only three people in the climbing party.

Edited by Zeta Male

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"[T]oo large [of] a group" (per Ivan)? Why would that be cited? There were only three people in the climbing party.

climbing w/ 3 is generally slower than w/ 2 - the n face gullies w/ 3 doubly so - speed was what they needed - if it had been just 2 climbers, their odds of survivial in this case would have been greater.

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...if it had been just 2 climbers, their odds of survivial in this case would have been greater.

 

I do not agree.

 

I often climb as a group of three and I think that, performed by experienced partners, it isn't much slower than climbing as a group of two. Autoblocking belay devices are awesome.

 

Being in a group of three allows for some efficiencies, extra manpower, extra brain, division of labor, etc that can make it a good choice.

 

For example, in a group of three, if one climber gets injured, it is really nice to have two healthy folks to deal with the situation.

 

 

Climbing as a group of three was not anywhere near this group's most serious mistake in my opinion.

 

 

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I do not agree.

 

I often climb as a group of three and I think that, performed by experienced partners, isn't much slower than climbing as a group of two. Autoblocking belay devices are awesome.

 

Being in a group of three allows for some efficiencies, extra manpower, extra brain, division of labor, etc that can make it a good choice.

 

For example, in a group of three, if one climber gets injured, it is really nice to have two healthy folks to deal with the situation.

 

 

Climbing as a group of three was not anywhere near this group's most serious mistake in my opinion.

 

have you climbed the n face gullies fox? not an attack mind you, just wondering if you'd applied your ideas to that route particularily - the ice steps are thin and narrow and 2 seconds are not going to be able to climb simulataneously - of course having a 3 set of hands around is better in case of injury, but that route, which is generally alwasy done in the dark days of late fall/early winter, demands speed. 3 experienced climbers who've done a lot of such climbs togetehr i agree could be as fast as two, but that doesn't describe this bunch as i recollect.

 

hey, aren't there 200 pages of this kinda speculation in the endless tauntaun thread for years back? :)

 

i agree too this was not their worst mistake - the decision to make a late start in the face of a grim forecast was probably the most telling

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Nope, I have not climbed NF of Hood. My one attempt at it (with Fern) years ago was aborted due to bad weather.

 

That said, I've climbed other gully-type snow and/or ice climbs with three folks with good results. There are definitely times where side-by-side climbing of the seconds is impossible and the lower climber needs to duck into an alcove to avoid icefall, but overall I think it works pretty well. I like having the third climber for social as well as safety reasons.

 

Climbing as a group of two IS faster, I'm not arguing against that, but to say that climbing as a group of three was an important factor in the difference between tragedy and victory in this case seems a bit of an exaggeration to me. In fact, I think discussing it distracts from the much more important errors made by this group.

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i prefer climbing w/ 3 b/c then i can usually weasel my way out of having to drive and/or buying the beer :)

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Not all storms are equal. This one had sustained winds in excess of 80mph up high with gusts over 90 mph for 6-7 days before the first break - then it slammed down hard again for the better part of another week.

 

If you don't have resources (fuel, warm gear) to wait it out then it's die now or die later. That's a tough choice that may have lead to the split of their party. We will never know.

 

And NO $!^%ing MLU is going to save your arse!

 

Sad, sad, sad. RIP.

 

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I'm with A-Fox AND I did climb NF of Hood with party of 3. It is not that steep except a few spots, we managed the verticle ice bulges with the seconds climbing side by side or offset slightly above/below and as Fox says, auto blocking devices are great. I enjoyed chatting with the the other second as we climbed up. Overall, I don't think we were that much slower than a party of 2 at all... we also had no bivy gear so we were light and fast. We also had a great forecast and we were local. I think 3 is better if shit hits the fan or one climber gets hurt.....

 

I concur the decision to go at all was the first/biggest mistake. Tragedies are usually a calvacade of small mistakes that add up to disaster.

 

 

Edited by David_Parker

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"[T]oo large [of] a group" (per Ivan)? Why would that be cited? There were only three people in the climbing party.

climbing w/ 3 is generally slower than w/ 2 - the n face gullies w/ 3 doubly so - speed was what they needed - if it had been just 2 climbers, their odds of survivial in this case would have been greater.

I heard Twight, Blitz, and House were really dragging ass on "The Gift..." Should've left House at the base, eh?

;)

 

Great thing about a group of 3 is that if one is being a dick you have 2 people to gang up on him.

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i'm glad to be cast as the anti-socialite, probably explains why i end up climbing in a team of 1 so often :grin:

 

3 fat ass clueless bumbling bastards will always climb slower than 2 equal retards - twight, blitz & house don't quite qualify as such - i didn't know these guys, but it sounded like they were more like the former and less like the later - a bigger group bumps n bangs up on itself, each person's 1 minute break adds to the collective lag - decisionmaking by consenus building takes longer - confidence in the power of the large team overcomes reallity - might explain why they got a later start on the route? i wasn't there so i don't know and don't represent myself as some sort of expert - from experience, all things equal, my climbs go faster the fewer folks are around, and the longer the smokes and beers survive!

 

at any rate, we argue over details - everyone can agree the most capital mistake was not their party size - were i to arrange my list of problems above, i'd put it at the bottom

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Does anyone out there car to comment from experience on the wisdom of the December, 2006 party's apparent decision to either a) go back down the way they'd come up or b) hunker down and and wait out the storm while lacking the gear to do so properly, rather than c) proceed with the original plan and descend the south side to Timberline?

 

Keep in mind that none of the three were familiar with the mountain or its summit, so what might seem like child's play to an old hand may have proven severely daunting to a party that hadn't previously been tasked with finding their way down the south side in the dark/whiteout conditions (which of course only makes more difficult to understand their choice to remain on the mountain while such conditions were arriving). Still, should the stretch from the summit, down through The Pearly Gates, over and down The Bergschrund (which probably wasn't its usual gaping self at that time of year) and along and down The Hogsback proven all that daunting? Even if they'd fallen in The Pearly Gates (in my mind the most treacherous part of the descent), would that be all that much of a problem - wouldn't the worst outcome from that probably be landing in the soft snow of The Hogsback?

 

And shouldn't "fast and light" include them carrying a snow shovel, a stove and fuel, and bivy-sacks for all of them?

 

And what about the foam pad that was found at the "belay point" - where the descent rigging was found (with broken ropes) away from the "snow cave" (how good of a snow cave could it have been if they lacked a snow shovel?) - is a foam pad really all that important for him/them rigging the descent gear? Wouldn't the guy in the snow cave have a more important claim on that (I say "Clearly, yes" while understanding that where the foam pad was found may not have been part of any rational choice/decision/discussion, and understanding that in the end, given how long the mountain was socked in, I don't think it made any difference)?

 

I want to know what experienced climbers have to say about all this - what would you have done if thinking rationally at that point, faced with deteriorating weather, and possibly dealing with the realization that you'd profoundly f'ed up already?

Edited by Zeta Male

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ru writing a book or something?

 

If you want to get into the heads of the deceased climbers go find their former partners and gather some stories of their other climbing adventures.

 

Your question seems a bit like asking experienced cube farm workers what they'd do (jump or wait) if they were on the 105th floor of Trade Tower 2 when a plane crashed into the 93rd and you knew from the news that the tower would fall and descent was impossible. Or what Scott Fisher would do high on '96 on Everest with a killer storm rising up to devour him. Actually, what all three did is call their loved ones.

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Well, actually that's kind of the odd thing here: there were at least two cell phones among the party (how that's known, I'm not sure, but that's what the accident report says) but aside from the well-known call from the then-alone guy in the snow-cave, nobody was calling their loved ones - they didn't seem to think that their goose was cooked yet.

 

As for the overall gist of your comment, I'm having a hard time accepting that these people became marooned when all that stood between them and safety after their summit was to simply stick with the original plan and descend the south-side route - storm or no storm. I just don't get why they abandoned that well-known-to-be-easiest route in favor of a treacherous reversal of their ascent.

 

Why did the uninjured but perhaps sick guy in the snow cave just lay there rather than attempt a south-side descent? I just don't get it. Even when he made his last telephone call he didn't request a rescue.

 

As for, "If you want to get into the heads of the deceased climbers....", that's not so much my interest. I want to get inside the heads of live, experienced climbers - using this accident report as a starting point - to know how they would have avoided what ended up in the same tragedy in the classical sense (i.e. ending up in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation) as these guys did.

 

I'm not an author; I'm not on my own ghoulish expedition. I just want to be sure I survive my climbing experiences. It was alleged early on that these guys were not idiots, and that they've climbed some significant mountains that I haven't, so it's not impossible that, on my journey from less-experienced to more-experienced climber, I could be faced with many of the choices these guys faced. I'd like to get clear on what those choices were and what the better selections would have been.

Edited by Zeta Male

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before writing more, please digest the entirety of this monstrosity please

 

in the meantime and while you're wading through the muck therein contained, contemplate the foolishness of looking for logic in the minds of extremely scared people in a very scary setting, then meditate on what you might make of this macabre moment, even if you could master its intricacies - the only real lesson to take from it is a simple one: don't get yourself killed - it upsets your family and looks poor in the papers!

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Well, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I was one of the contributors to that. There's a lot of speculation and rabbit holes in there. Don't you think the more-informed accident report is the best place to start analyzing and discussing this since, lacking much response to that aspect of my original query, that apparently hasn't been done yet?

 

I do owe you applause for the succinctness of your analysis earlier - from my perspective it seems you hit the salient points right on the head.

Edited by Zeta Male

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...simply stick with the original plan and descend the south-side route - storm or no storm.

 

Have you tried to head straight into 80+mph winds and driving snow on steep, unfamilar, and unstable terrain? Me either.

 

...I just want to be sure I survive my climbing experiences.

 

You can go a long way by learning to read and heed the weather forecast.

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You can go a long way by learning to read and heed the weather forecast.

 

Point noted. But I have to say my "formal" climbing training didn't cover that much. I pay attention to that stuff mostly because of my pilot's training. Pity the climbers who aren't attuned to interpreting big-picture, regional weather forecasts.

 

It seems the need to be down the mountain or at least sheltered BEFORE the storm hits can't be emphasized enough.

 

But you experienced climbers: would you be critical of these guys if they'd brought snow-camping gear with them to the summit and planned to just hunker down and ride out any storms in a proper snow cave (given that they were supposedly training for grander expeditions)?

 

It seems to me that climbers can read a lot of stuff from disparate sources, and have success on difficult climbs, and then come to the conclusion that they're experts and they know what they're doing when they're really not and they really don't - they're just lucky that nothing unforeseen came up. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any formal dividing line in climbing between those who know what they're doing and those who don't.

Edited by Zeta Male

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Two fundamental reasons from my perspective: Ignoring the weather and feeling compelled and obligated to climb because you've traveled for, and organized your lives around, a specific, short window for a climb.

 

I'm not an alpine climber, but watch the weather closely in the winter so I can rock climb Beacon rock in the nearby Columbia River Gorge. I climbed both the day they arrived at the hut and the day they left it and had been watching the weather intently that whole week on Stormsurf's Pacific and Jetstream forecasts along with Intellicast's Infrared Sat. Significant storms were clearly stacked up across the North Pacific set to come in waves one after another and the Jetstream was on top of us. Window conditions in the Gorge were just dry enough for me to squeak in the climbs, but both days were a couple of the most brutal I've encountered at Beacon and was battling bitterly cold, steady 50-60kt winds and much higher gusts on the final corner ridge pitch.

 

One look at the conditions out in the Pacific in combination with the position of the Jetstream told the story on Hood. My take is the lesson should be that locals have the luxury of picking and choosing their windows but travelers do not, and so should be prepared to back off on a lousy forecast no matter how far you've traveled or how much went into arranging your lives to make the climb possible.

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