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Loomis

Climber Lost in Whiteout on Mt Hood

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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.

 

These types of resources are great for the general weather forecast, but only constitute the minimal extreme events that can occur at elevation. It's entirely possible to have a perfectly clear outlook and have a rather severe orthographic driven weather event. This would be very likely on mountains like Shasta or Hood or SW Olympics which don't have much disturbances upstream.

 

 

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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.

These types of resources are great for the general weather forecast, but only constitute the minimal extreme events that can occur at elevation. It's entirely possible to have a perfectly clear outlook and have a rather severe orthographic driven weather event. This would be very likely on mountains like Shasta or Hood or SW Olympics which don't have much disturbances upstream.

I agree that you can have fairly localized weather events on the mountains, but the big risks I've seen over the years have been folks not anticipating the time between significant and obvious storm fronts coming ashore, often with a predictable cadence. The links above are provided in that context, not for "general forecasts", but solely to understand what's stacked out to Japan and when it's likely to come ashore. In the winter these are often quite well-defined systems and events which are obvious on the pacific infrared sat animation loops.

 

If three of them are strung out and coming ashore with the jet stream is on top of us it isn't rocket science what's going to happen as each front moves onshore nor how long it's likely to be between them. So yeah, you have to be prepared to deal with localized conditions on the mountain, but there's no reason to be up there as obvious and significant fronts are coming onshore.

 

Here's an example from today. Three significant and obviously recognizable events - one onshore and moving through, two more stacked over to Japan with a split jet stream recombining to sit over us. Pretty clear what's going to happen and the only question really is how long a window between each of them.

 

storms.jpg

 

Infrared above, jet stream below...

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As a professional guide with many summits of Mt Hood and a member of the MRA for 18 years, here is what I believe happened. The slope between devils kitchen and hogsback developes a low angle break close to where the engine block is located on crater rock before steepening again. On a whiteout descent its possible to think that you have reached the top of white river when you see the second steepening so u turn right and find urself in the middle slope of crater rock instead of at the base. A look at ur altitude will tell u that u are too high. This has pulled more than a few climbers but they have either been smart enough to retrace or heard other climbers talking to their left and so again move skiers left to get back on track. So we don't get to hear from them!!!

 

A compass would not have helped in that it would show u were on the correct heading. A altimeter would show you 200/300ft too high but that could be due to the lower barometric pressure with the new front. The best indication would be GPS, Once above Palmer, set a track up the mountain that you can follow back down. That would show the climber that they are off route. while climbing Mt Hood or any mountain, always look for geo hand rails that will help you recognize where you are. On S Hood, the Palmer lift at 8500ft, Twin Rocks at 9150ft, Upper Triangle at 9600ft, top of white river 10, 100ft. All approx

 

Water, I appreciate you sending us your version but you may have misrepresented PMR, how PMR members feels should come from PMR not hearsay from subject, sorry. Most of us have never needed to be rescued. Its not to play it forward. I joined Mountain Rescue because I believe we should all give back to our community, either thro service or financial contributions. I have a skill set that allows me to do this thro Mountain Rescue. This is why most people join Mountain Rescue.

 

Lastly I would ask climbers that are waiting on rescue to minimize phone usage. That phone is your connection to the outside world and may be needed by the rescue folk in the field to contact you. If that battery dies, so might you. Switch off wifi mode, tell the sheriff you will go to airplane mode and contact him at set intervals maybe every 1/2 hour or hour. In the end, you did stay calm and remained in place, both of which is not easy to do so kudos on that.

 

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Water, I appreciate you sending us your version but you may have misrepresented PMR, how PMR members feels should come from PMR not hearsay from subject, sorry. Most of us have never needed to be rescued.

 

Water was quoting Jeff's story from facebook I believe.

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A map and a compass and the ability to dead reckon would probably have fixed this. If you were to spend the $ that you spend on a GPS and take a class instead, you would be much better off in the long run.

 

Its not that hard. Know your pace count on varying different terrain, head on an azimuth and go! Compasses are not magic. I suppose now that exactly .0001% of the population even knows how to operate one with the most basic of functions it kind of is...

 

 

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I think the UW Atmos site run by Cliff Mass's lab is probably the best tool around for detailed precip and cloud predictions (specifically the 4km runs). Of course, the models are often wrong, but major features are rarely missed completely.

 

http://www.atmos.washington.edu/mm5rt/rt/gfsinit.d3.html

 

Great site, love the Cliff Mass blog as well.

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Its not that hard.

 

Faced with high winds, precip, steep terrain, and whiteout- AND solo, I don't agree.

 

I think Joseph hit it right on that on the bigger mtns. around here it stacks the cards in your favor to pick an adequate window. As noted above, there are lots of resources to help you get a good idea of the size of the window. Once you are caught up high in bad weather, handheld tools aren't certain to keep you out of trouble.

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Well, I guess we will have to disagree on that. Been on every continent, in all kinds of mountain ranges, deserts, forests and jungles, never been lost with a map and a compass. I KNOW the vast majority of people on this board cannot ADEQUATELY use a map and compass. By that, I mean the ability to both ACCURATELY terrain associate and dead reckon.

 

Did this bloke even have a good map and compass? I bet not. Better question: Did he know how to use them? Nope.

 

I am sure that there will be a knee jerk reaction in the follow-on posts as people subconsciously know that I am right but can't admit it.

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I agree that map/compass work is a fading skill. Maybe because of GPS use folks are more comfortable following the blips on their screen. And having worked on some big landscapes owned by the military, some of those guys were among the best at map work I've ever come across. Plus, they could land a 'copter on a postage stamp to get us in and out of remote places.

 

Knowledge of your terrain, use of map, compass, and altimeter can get you out of almost any sticky situation. That said - on the volcanoes I can see a GPS being very useful.

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Places like the south slopes on Hood or Muir snowfield can require teamwork with map and compass in whiteouts. In bad conditions you need to take a bearing on your partner as they walk/ski.

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Dead reckoning is a difficult skill to use in a whiteout on a glacier. For those of us who are mere mortals, estimating the length of our steps to a high degree of accuracy is quite difficult. With dead reckoning you have to be extremely accurate because every error adds on to every other error.

 

Also, it's one thing to be lost as in "I don't know where I am within 1km" and another thing to be lost as in "I don't know where I am within 10m". I don't know Mt. Hood, but some peaks require a much more precision than a typical topo map will convey.

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Did this bloke even have a good map and compass? I bet not. Better question: Did he know how to use them? Nope.

 

pretty bold statement. Do you even know the guy? How are you so sure of his map/compass skills?

 

I consider myself really good with map and compass use and I have one experience where even with diligent use of the tools and using a rope team to keep it going the right way, I was still way off due to the accumulated errors inherent in the system. Granted it was on a flat ice field, without the benefit of a fall line, but sometimes things go wrong.

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Did this bloke even have a good map and compass? I bet not. Better question: Did he know how to use them? Nope.

 

pretty bold statement. Do you even know the guy? How are you so sure of his map/compass skills?

 

I consider myself really good with map and compass use and I have one experience where even with diligent use of the tools and using a rope team to keep it going the right way, I was still way off due to the accumulated errors inherent in the system. Granted it was on a flat ice field, without the benefit of a fall line, but sometimes things go wrong.

 

Well, I am a bold guy. Perhaps you are not as good with a compass and a map as you think? If you practice your pace counting on different kinds of terrain and with different loads, you CAN absolutely keep your margin of error very low. Perhaps people don't use dead reckoning; or simply don't practice it.

 

I would bet by left testicle that guy that got lost couldn't find 3 points on one of our land navigation courses. Altimeter, Map, Compass and the ability to use them will get you ANYWHERE you need to go. You think a glacier is bad, try a flat desert in Eastern Africa on a 25 km movement.

 

All this whiteout shit is just an excuse. If you REALLY knew how to dead reckon, you could do it; albeit with some concentration.

 

If you had to google dead reckoning, you probably don't know how to use a compass and map well enough (as I am sure most here did).

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Granted it was on a flat ice field, without the benefit of a fall line, but sometimes things go wrong.

 

Navigating on the flat in WAY easier than on the slope....

 

I worked for the FS doing stand analysis, drag line layouts, and marking sales. Most of this was done with compass bearings and pacing. Anyone who says pacing a bearing on a sidehill is easy is Wack!

 

I think this guy's decision to hunker down was his best. High stakes navigation in the fog on a slope is a bad idea.

Edited by max

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All this whiteout shit is just an excuse.

 

I wonder if it really is though? Granted, practice and proficiency are never a bad thing, but the bad glacier whiteout experiences I've had have been truly disorienting. I was always with others and even when they were directing me from behind (with map/compass/gps while fixed in place) I couldn't walk in a straight line (while trying very, very hard). Even if you are good, when you can't tell sky from ground and the wind is pushing you around, I don't see how any solo person would be able to navigate over distance without some significant error.

 

But, it sounds like you may have had those exact conditions (solo as well) and been able to pull it off, or are you just guessing?

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All this whiteout shit is just an excuse.

 

I wonder if it really is though? Even if you are good, when you can't tell sky from ground and the wind is pushing you around, I don't see how any solo person would be able to navigate over distance without some significant error.

 

I think some degree of error is inevitable, but that is where skill in using navigational aids like a GPS really come into play. I have been in whiteout conditions solo before and rely on backtracking my recorded GPS track. I can usually stay within 50-100 feet of my track depending on how careful I am and how often I check my GPS. This has worked great for me on the South side of Mt Hood, but may not in places where the difference of a few feet can be fatal.

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I agree that a GPS can really improve your navigation ability, esp. while solo (provided you have enough batteries!).

 

I guess I was mainly getting at ak's assertion that all you need is a map and compass to dead reckon in a whiteout, with heavy wind and precip, on a slope, while solo. I think you may be able to more or less get to where you want to, but that often isn't good enough in cliffy, crevassed terrain.

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I've been trying to resist responding to this post, but I have something to add that someone new to mountaineering should consider, especially if you have checked off "navigating in a whiteout" as something you think you can handle.

 

In my experience you cannot navigate safely in a true whiteout in an alpine environment. On a flat surface with no hazards maybe, but in a total whiteout, when you can't see your feet, you can become so disoriented that vertigo sets in and your brain will basically lose its reference on life as you know it, making it even impossible to stand without falling. This is a terrifying experience. If you are in a cold stormy environment, then hopefully you have the mental fortitude to keep it together and the skills and equipment to safely hunker down and wait it out.

 

Trying to travel in a whiteout with hazards around is dangerous. Even if you were on ZigZag snowfield below Crater Rock on south side Hood, and your altimeter told you you were safely well above ZigZag Canyon and Mississippi Head, you risk falling into a blow hole or falling off a three foot wind slab. Either could result in serious injury simply because you can't see where you are falling.

 

IMO this guy would have died had he not called SAR, so calling SAR was the right thing to do at that point, from the standpoint of ensuring his own personal survival. Had some SAR personnel perished during the rescue effort then you could second guess that decision. There is no question he made several mistakes that got him to that point.

 

Re. GPS, I have one and seldom use it, but when I've used it I was glad I had it. I consider a non-electronic map, compass, and altimeter to be mandatory. I regard GPS as an emergency device to fall back on if I should become disoriented. If I become disoriented I have made a mistake, so I regard GPS as a "fix" for doing something I shouldn't have done. If you stay oriented to the terrain and you are familiar with the terrain or have a good hard copy map, you will not need GPS. If you are unfamiliar with the terrain and are staying oriented to a map on a GPS then you are traveling on borrowed time.

 

Oh yes... I'm grateful to have survived my mistakes w/o calling SAR or being hung out to dry on CC.

 

 

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