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Loomis

Climber Lost in Whiteout on Mt Hood

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Textbook example of GPS and compass yet still screwing up.

Good point, but that's like comparing apples to oranges. We are talking South side Mt Hood here and 2012.

 

Last spring I was in that exact same spot with 5 people. 2 had GPS, 1 had a compass and 1 person had done the route multiple times. Yet despite all of the above my partner skied right off a cornice at more or less the same spot where that guy died. The only difference is we were roped up so after 2 hours of trying to remember how to build a z-pulley we continued on our way. Climbers pretty much repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Sooner or later you'll fuck up too so ease off on the tough guy talk.

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Last spring I was in that exact same spot with 5 people. 2 had GPS, 1 had a compass and 1 person had done the route multiple times. Yet despite all of the above my partner skied right off a cornice at more or less the same spot where that guy died. The only difference is we were roped up so after 2 hours of trying to remember how to build a z-pulley we continued on our way. Climbers pretty much repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Sooner or later you'll fuck up too so ease off on the tough guy talk.

 

Very true wfinley. Skiing is a whole different animal. I am not confident enough in my abilities to ski down in whiteout conditions so kudos to all those who do. And your right, some day I will fuck up (I always do) and down the road chances are I'll probably die doing what I love.

 

By the way great photography on your website.

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Nice little adventure. Can't wait for the TR.

 

Its great to see that compass reading and white out navigation are considered to be part of an advanced skill set by you guys. I'm the definition of weekend warrior when it comes to climbing and I wouldn't dream of climbing anything if I wasn't confident in my abilities to get myself off a mountain in bad weather. I've done it several times as have many, many climbers I know. It's not really that hard. Not sure why several of you are making it out to be more than it is.

 

 

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Reading a compass or gps in foul weather is possible but not without risk. Especially in terrain where veering slightly offroute could prove fatal. So when someone gets caught out in a storm ease up on the "if only he could read a compass" BS.

 

As for never going out except in good weather... maybe you can do that in Portland but you can't do that anywhere north of you.

 

Success in navigating during poor weather (or any time) has to do with ones general knowledge and familiarity with an area. In this particular case it is fairly common knowledge that when heading down from the hogsback if you follow due South on a magnetic compass you will get back down to Timberline. I have personally done this solo in a total whiteout (I could barely see my feet). When I climb in foul weather, I prepare for it. Relying on a single navigational aid is never smart either. Personally I carry a GPS with detailed mapping software and plotted route, spare battery for GPS, magnetic compass, and altimeter with digital compass. I never want to get lost and therefore I prepare accordingly.

 

I go out in poor weather all the time. We don't really have a choice in the Pacific Northwest. That just makes being prepared all the more important.

 

I love the "here we go again" comment made by the guy who started the thread.

 

My initial comment was made out of frustration. I get tired of people getting lost when a little more preparation would have likely made the outcome much different. It's not rocket science, just common sense. The same day I went up to the hogsback for the first time (total whiteout on decent) on Hood there was a guy that became lost and had to be rescued. The culprit was ill preparedness. It gives climbing a bad rep. The general public often incorrectly thinks it costs a small fortune for the rescue and resent climbers as a result.

 

What makes you other guys so sure that this guy can't read a compass, anyway? Check out the guy's Facebook pictures and see some of the places he's been (not just to climb). Seems unlikely that an individual with as much outdoor experience as he has can't read a compass... Maybe it was the one piece of gear that he honestly forgot to bring and forgetting it taught him a very valuable lesson - and nearly could have taught him a final lesson. He was lucky, yes, but none of that is indicitive of him not having the ability to read a compass. Lighten up, guys... He's gonna get enough flak as it is for this. We were all likely once at his level - some here on cc still are - so let his experience be an example to everyone.

 

As sad as it is, it is very common for experienced outdoors people to not know how to really use a compass. But in this case who knows. It really doesn't matter as long as you have some type of navigation aid that you do know how to use. I personally rely on a GPS and only use a compass as a fallback. A big lesson here, is always have a backup. This is Oregon in winter. Chances are the weather will be shitty. If you go out, have a plan to get back.

 

So how many of you smart folks have actually navigated a whiteout with simply a compass? How many times solo? It's not as easy as you might think. I have never done it solo (thank God) but have done it twice, hard work!

 

Plenty of climbers do this. I have done it solo. I prefer a GPS. There are also plenty of much better climbers than me that are familiar enough with an area they are able to navigate whiteout conditions without the aid of a compass or GPS, but I am sure they carry one, or the other, or both.

 

Well holy shit Loomis - aren't you just the cat's meow!

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This is getting good.

 

On a serious note, that is a sobering accident write up Mr. Finley. The Balfour High Col is something that I've treated with respect, but that accident is still a bit unnerving, and a good reminder to not think too highly of one's abilities.

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where the fuck is marmot prince when you need him? he had a ton of experience and wasn't just an e-mountaineer

 

this is from Jeff Kish's facebook. spose if he aint kosher with it being here then mods can delete if i can't edit/delete it. draw your own conclusions but i think it is a decent write up and will be a good ANAM 2013 entry with some edit and accompanying analysis. merits going to calling for help and staying put, imo.

 

"In the first photo, I'm at the top of the crater, about to go up old chute to the summit. Clear skies, nice view of Mt. Jefferson, neat cloud inversion in the distance - just a couple hundred feet from the summit. The second photo is the

view from the summit shortly after... Thank you all so much for your concern and support the last few days, and sorry for the scare! Everyone's got a lot of questions about what happened up there - and there's a lot of speculation on the news sites... Here's the facts: Before going up on the mountain, I always check the northwest weather and avalanche center reports for the mountain online (the same info on the screen at the climber's registry at Timberline lodge.)

http://www.nwac.us/forecast/avalanche/current/zone/13/

The avalanche report was more safe than I've ever seen it - all green for all parts of the mountain. I also always check weather.gov for a spot forecast for Hood's summit here:

http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=45.359865333959746&lon=-121.70516967773438&site=pqr&unit=0&lg=en&FcstType=text

The forecast was for a clear night that would last well into the morning, and then an 80% chance of light snow later in the day Wednesday, when I expected to be back down at a safe elevation. Even if it came a little earlier, I judged it, as described, to be safe enough conditions for a down climb.

So I rented a car, drove out to the mountain, spent the night sleeping at a rest stop near timberline, and then head up to the mountain around 2:00 am to start my climb up. I brought extra gear in case of an emergency, filled out the sheets at the registry with my itinerary and gear list, and started up slope by 2:30. It was a gorgeous night. The moon was full, the skies were clear, and the view was great. I could see Mt. Jefferson in clear detail by the moonlight alone. The city lights of Portland were crisp behind illumination rock, all the features of the upper crater were distinct, and the route was clear well before the sun broke the horizon. I climbed the whole way without using my headlamp. I was up to Devil's Kitchen at the lip of the crater when the sun was just turning the eastern horizon orange. The skies were clear and everything looked as predicted in the forecasts beforehand. I climbed up and over the hogsback, then around all the fumaroles, and then began the final ascent up through old chute to the summit. The chute is steep, and I was focused on the ice and snow in front of me. As I neared the top, I turned and saw a wall of white rushing up the mountain. In a few minutes, I'm on top in a complete whiteout. The clouds came in from the distance and rushed up the mountain with strong winds and some snow. The winds stirred up all the lose existing snow on the mountain as well, and the result was just blinding white, with no visible distinction between where the ground stopped and the storm started. I turned to face the mountain and climbed down the chute backwards, trying to find my old kicked in steps to get back to the crater. In the whiteout, it was impossible to tell how far I had descended until I smelled the fumaroles. I climbed down past those, and knew where crater rock should be in relation to them. It wasn't until I could reach out and touch crater rock that I knew it was there. I swung around the east side of the crater when the first of a series of incidents occurred that led to the decision to call 911. I punched through the crust of snow too close to Crater rock and found myself dangling from the hips down in a hole that was created by the hot noxious gases being vented from the volcano. The hole was deeper than the depth I fell, and I was lucky to have caught my fall and been able to climb back out. If I had fallen completely through, things could have been really bad. This was a mistake I made because I was getting off the mountain by touch; and feeling for hazards is the worst way to find them... After the fall, I decided to make a wider ark around crater rock to avoid a repeat. The common advice for navigating the mountain in a whiteout on the south side is to just head south. Following the fall line will take you away from Timberline Lodge. I made the wide ark and entered the south slopes a little further out than I should have. I also ran into some terrain I needed to avoid so I got further and further from the center line. I was conscious of this and tried to correct my line of descent, but what I didn't know was just how far I had actually descended before trying to make the correction. At one point I took a step down into the white and just found a void where I thought there would be snow. I took a tumble of a low edge and fell into soft snow. Nothing serious, but the fact that I could be stepping off cliffs in that section of the mountain without knowing it was disconcerting. How deep would the next one be? It was this fall that I landed on my crampon. I didn't think too much of it at the time. No blood showed through my two layers of pants, it didn't hurt much, and I had worse things to think about. As I tried to get west, the terrain got much steeper, and the consequences of another slip grew exponentially. Visibility was still terrible, it was cold, and from my limited view of the situation I was in, I decided moving any further was too risky. I layered up, laid down an insulating sleeping pad I carried, pulled out my 15 degree sleeping bag, and crawled in for shelter. I considered trying to wait out the storm, but the forecast for the rest of the week seemed to indicate that things might not get better, and I knew I was in a pretty dire situation to be stuck in that position with that kind of exposure for too long, so I made the decision to call 911 and ask for help. I provided the 911 operator GPS coordinates for my location which I took from an app I had on my phone. She forwarded me to a sheriff who would be in charge of coordinating the rescue. We spoke several times about my situation, and he contacted Portland Mountain Rescue with the details. Volunteers from all over came and met at Timberline lodge, and at 5:00 pm, a couple hours after I called for help, they were heading to the top of Palmer Glacier in a snowcat. By this time, it was already dark. When they radioed to the sheriff that they were close to my location, the sheriff let me know, and I crawled out of the relative safety of my sleeping bag, and began to blow my safety whistle for the rescuers to hear, and set my headlamp to pulse, hoping they could use it as a beacon to close in on me. Unfortunately, the wind was too strong for the sounds to carry and there was too much snow in the air for much light to penetrate, so their search lasted until about midnight, when we all finally spotted one another. In the mean time, things got really bad for me up there. The snow piled up, and I had to keep digging out. It was getting into my bag and melting, and my breath was causing a lot of condensation, which added to the problem. Wet down provides no insulation, and I got wet and cold fast. I had to keep a hold of the light, and my gloves got saturated and froze solid. I got short of breath, and it was hard to shout and blow the whistle, but I kept at it, with no response or sign of the rescuers for hours. I got nauseous trying to stand. I trembled horribly, and then finally began to get drowsy and started to hallucinate a bit - mostly about being rescued, when in fact, no one was there. I think I may have passed out a few times. There were moments when I thought about giving up on the rescue. To be seen, I needed to get out of my bag which was wet, but still kept the wind off, and I was getting confused and disoriented, and it was really hard to snap out of it and motivate to do what I needed to do to be rescued. Finally, around midnight, I heard a faint whistle. I whistled back, and then spotted headlamps. They saw mine and began to make their way over to my location.They got up to the ledge I was on, gave me a lot of hot stuff to drink, gave me some dry layers to wear, and asked if I thought I could climb off the mountain on my own power. I said I thought I could, but was apprehensive due to the condition I was in. Moving was good though, and as a group, the rescuers and I climbed down off the ledge as my body warmed from the activity. The visibility was marginally better at that point, but still bad enough that the SAR leader actually led us down into the wrong canyon by mistake. When we realized where we were, we readjusted our course though, and everything worked out OK. We climbed down to a snowcat waiting for us at the top of the Palmer glacier. On the ride down we talked a bit about PMR. One of the rescuers mentioned that a lot of their members join after being rescued themselves. One even needed his own rescue after he was a trained member of the group! They said, "you ARE going to keep climbing right?" and were happy to hear me say "yes." They did a good job of helping me off the mountain, and a great job of making me feel comfortable about my decision to ask for their help. A common sentiment I've seen in the newspaper comment sections after a climber needs rescue is that the climber is irresponsible for putting the rescuer's life at risk because of their selfish actions. Talking to these guys, the ACTUAL rescuers everyone likes to speculate about in these situations, it was perfectly clear that they love what they do, often require the same services themselves at one point or another and have chosen to pay it forward, and that they encourage fellow climbers to get right back on the horse when they fall off. Back at Timberline Lodge, the media was waiting with cameras for interviews, and that was the first thing I had to do once I was back on solid ground. After that was a quick talk with some medics and the sheriff who organized the rescue, and a great night at Timberline Lodge with Kolby Kirk, who had been in constant communication with the rescue team and did a great job passing the details on to my friends and family. He drove all the way up from Bend, arranged a discount on the bunk room, and greeted me with hot chocolate and rum! In the morning we had the famous timberline lodge breakfast buffet, and then it was back to Portland for me. My leg is cut a bit from the crampon, and all 10 fingers may or may not have frostbite - i should know soon. It was a long 25 hours on the mountain, and I definitely got a serious introduction to the potential perils of mountaineering. I must admit I was getting pretty scared toward the end of my wait for rescue, but in the end, I still maintain - you can't let fears dictate the way you live your life. The biggest rewards always come with some risk."

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It's always interesting to here the details before judging the experience. I'm glad everything turned out ok.

Edited by Loomiss

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I wonder some times if people would behave differently if they were able to hear their inner dialogue saying something like this:

 

"Cool, let's talk shit about another climber we don't know because something happened to them and not me. I have no professional experience in mountain rescue, guiding or instruction but I love taking pictures, have a website & bio and consider myself an avid outdoorsman!"

 

Or if they had to say the same things to the afflicted person and his bros in a bar at the ski hill?

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***All that stuff that H20 posted***

 

Nice account! Sounds epic... Glad he made it down to tell it! After all, that is what is important!

 

Loomis, I agree with you about redundancy in navigation. [No saying that I am in the league, but] when one gets to the point in mountaineering that weight is a serious issue then the gps receiver gets left behind and it's back to basics.

 

I remember a couple times, quite a few years ago in college when I was more broke than I am now and couldn't afford a lift ticket, when I slogged up Palmer beyond the lift with my snowboard and explored for the first time. I had been backpacking for many years and had a lot of experience actually using my compass and map together, so navigating wasn't a foreign concept to me. What I hadn't been in many of prior to that were whiteouts. I had understood - from literature - the disorienting effects that a whiteout can have on one's senses, but in 96 I was still fairly new to snow sports. Twice I booted it up -solo - to a (fairly) level spot near the hot rocks (first time with the intention to summit and ride off, but never did; the second time just to get the longest run I could get that day) and turned around due to whiteouts. On my descent the first time, which I [foolishly] did strapped in, I got waaaaay far west and was totally headed toward zig zag. I kept going down, vaguely recalling something i'd once heard about the "Mt Hood Triangle" but it all felt wrong and i stopped inthe snow and sat down. When the clouds finally thinned a bit I was still just high enough to know that I needed to correct my course to skier's left in order to make it back to timberline lodge. Granted, mine were a different set of circumstances, and I had plenty of light, not to mention that it was spring break and not late fall. Regardless, when I f*#ked that up I LEARNED from it and it didn't happen next time. And yes, I was carrying a compass both times: I only started bringing a map on such types of adventures after that first time. While it may be a naive view of mountaineering in general, I have found that on Hood's south side the better one knows the area the easier it is to navigate in a whiteout. And naturally wands help also. But my point is that I was lucky too in those days because when I knew I was truly off course I got off my feet and re-evaluated my situation: my heart quit pounding from the ride and I was able to clearly think about what I had to do to get back to my beer in the cooler. As I was going thru my options the clouds began to allow a slight bit better visibility and I oriented myself toward the "Mile" and made it back just fine. I knew when my nerves were limiting out and I knew when I needed to sit back and take stock in the situation, and figure a new strategy. Again, I had plenty of light so I didn't think I needed to call the patrol or PMR, but I was definitely nervous. I guess if I seem like I am really sympathetic to Jeff's situation its because I see some of my own decision-making processes in his actions - he knew when he had to call for help, which if one is also packing an ego along can make it difficult to decide to ask for that kind of help... Jeff sounds like he handled himself very calmly for what he was into and for what resulted from it he knows that he gained some great experience. I always forget how the saying goes about good judgement, bad judgment, experience, and the relation between the three (maybe the real vets can help me out here) but if there is one thing I can definitively say about Jeff's situation, without ever having met the guy, mind you, it would be that his experience didn't let bad judgment really cloud his thinking, and to me that [in part] is what makes a mountaineer.

 

(Someone up above in the thread asked if anyone of us had ever navigated in a whiteout, so I felt compelled to give a tale from my ultra-beginner days - it was fun recalling it for this discussion)

 

Glad you're back ok, man... If you're reading this!

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I punched through the crust of snow too close to Crater rock and found myself dangling from the hips down in a hole that was created by the hot noxious gases being vented from the volcano. The hole was deeper than the depth I fell, and I was lucky to have caught my fall and been able to climb back out. If I had fallen completely through, things could have been really bad. This was a mistake I made because I was getting off the mountain by touch; and feeling for hazards is the worst way to find them...

 

That part of the story would have been enough to get my freak out going good. I think this guy did alright considering the circumstances.

 

Some of us think that we have all the answers, but until you are there in the shit you don't really know.

 

The rescue guys thought he made the right call.

 

The only thing I would add would be not to bring a down bag.

 

Thankfully this guy made it back. All the best to ya Jeff.

Edited by Plaidman

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I've descended from Camp Muir via GPS in a whiteout. Having a partner sure made me feel a lot better, I can't imagine being alone and having no perspective. There were times when I felt like I was about to ski off a big drop and threw myself down to make an immediate stop only to find I was hardly moving. :lmao:

 

Glad the guy made it out and :tup: for the rescuers.

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Into the whiteout. . .

 

That's a good one. :crazy:

It's actually worse. I had to work. It always gets in the way.

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He is changing his profile pic to not look like a 40 year old boy scout.

 

I agree. That was a shitty profile picture for CC. It was a pose with my wife for a photo Christmas card several years back on Boy Scout Ridge.

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Solo in a full zero vis whiteout a compass/alti is near to useless unless you really know the area.

 

3 big mistakes

 

down bag in the PNW (been there done that!)

 

not digging a snow cave

 

killing your cell battery posting to Facebook

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The forecast was for a clear night that would last well into the morning, and then an 80% chance of light snow later in the day Wednesday, when I expected to be back down at a safe elevation.

It would seem on Hood that again and again folks fail to give themselves much if any buffer on the weather window and / or are insufficiently informed about what weather is stacked up out across the Pacific waiting to come ashore.

 

Picking a weather window with enough of a buffer to either deal yourself or be rescued is fairly straightforward judgment. Heading up without being sufficiently informed on the weather is just a mistake and by and large an easily preventable one. The weather resources available today are unparalleled and there is no reason to not avail yourself of them prior to climbing.

 

Just the global / pacific animated infrared sat loop alone gives you a decent picture of what fronts, if any, are stacked up all the way over to Asia and the three day jet stream forecast gives you a fair sense of how and where those fronts are going to come ashore. Those two together with an endless array of local / reginal three and seven day forecasts round out a pretty fair idea of what weather windows to expect. Seems crazy folks either don't avail themselves of the info or pick tight windows without enough, or any, backend margin to deal with unseen circumstances.

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Well, I wasn't going to weigh in but here goes.

 

A compass sounds like the schizz and you should have one on you, but are near (I said "near") worthless in a total shitstorm. The problem is that there is nothing to fix on, and as you can't even see your feet, the strong sideways gusts you always get make you wonder if you are heading south, or if you are only believe that you are heading south but are actually looking due south and being blown 3 steps east for every one south. You can't tell. Since you are stumbling because you can't see the ground and every little dip catches you unawares, you don't trust anything. Including the compass. It's easy to get blown off course, and you know it's happening for certain, yet you don't know the extent of it.

 

Most people that I've seen over the years get into a winter shitstorm like Mr Kish, wind up in White River canyon. As the canyon goes a bit kittywampus and has a steep entry point, anyone looking at a compass thinking they are on the south Timberline heading is surprised and confused when they hit that entry slope. And often folks will tell you that their first encounter with that slope is that they take a step and as they don't see it, they roll down the thing in the soft snow. Now the wind is whipping the soft snow sideways over the lip, they've rolled towards the east, they can't see shit, and it makes it even worse for visibility and adds to the confusion level. Who knows where he was. Kish says he encountered a cliff, the only real cliff up there may be Mississippi Head, but that's a lower elevation. So who can say.

 

A GPS would have helped the most, I understood that the only GPS he had was his phone. I used to carry an altimeter as GPS wasn't invented yet, but truthfully, looking at one when you can't see your feet or identify the 2 foot indentation you just tumbled into, tells your location incrementally only a bit more. Having a buddy can help. My buddy Bob and I hiked down from Silcox to Timberline one shitstorm and he got a frostbitten face from looking at the compass every 100 steps or so. I was just trying to stay within 2 feet of him as he had the compass:-) Periodically we'd stop to reaffirm to each other that we were going the right way. Nice to have a trustworthy partner.

 

The big issue is that dude shouldn't have headed up knowing that shit weather was heading in. Period. I've done it. Maybe you've done it - we've all done dumb stuff. That was dumb. The frostbite story above was a from a guides meeting we had in the hut. As I was descending I was thinking, "this was dumb". There was like 12 or so of us up there overnighting and we could have easily lost a guide -perhaps several, on the short hike down to Timberline. It could have been me had Bobs back disappeared for more than a couple seconds. He wouldn't have heard me yelling, you could barely stand up and you couldn't see your feet. As I've gotten old and soft, it's easier to stay where it's warm, so I don't want this to be perceived as a criticism. I'm just sayin.

 

I've been up on and summited that Mt ever month of the year. We all go out into some stuff sometimes and it's stupid to do it in winter when a world class storm is heading in unless you are looking for an extreme challenge, in which case, don't call for a rescue.

 

 

Best to all, an congrats on the #1 thing of importance to Kish or anyone in that space. Survival.

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Comments from the Oregonian:

 

"A Southeast Portland climber rescued early today from Mount Hood says official weather forecasts called for favorable conditions before he launched his solo climb to the summit and that an unforeseen blizzard blinded him during his descent."

 

"A common sentiment I've seen in the newspaper comment sections after a climber needs rescue is that the climber is irresponsible for putting the rescuer's life at risk because of their selfish actions," Kish posted. "Talking to these guys, the ACTUAL rescuers everyone likes to speculate about in these situations, it was perfectly clear that they love what they do, often require the same services themselves at one point or another and have chosen to pay it forward..."

 

 

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