At approximately 3:30 p.m. on November 28, 2012, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office requested PMR to respond to a climber stranded in white out conditions near Crater Rock on Mt. Hood. The sheriff had been in cell phone communication with the subject and reported that he was uninjured, but cold and wet. The subject was unable to navigate safely from his location. The sheriff was able to provide GPS coordinates from the subject’s cell phone call to 911, which located him near the base of the south side of Crater Rock at around 10,000 feet elevation.
Thirteen PMR rescuers assembled at Timberline Lodge and boarded a snow cat around 6:30 p.m. The snow cat was able to transport them to the top of the Palmer Lift at approximately 8600 feet. The teams were greeted by 50 mph winds, heavy snow fall and rime ice conditions (fog that freezes to form a layer of ice on everything, including rescuers and their gear). In these conditions, a hasty team traveling light and fast proceeded to the area of the GPS coordinates. A second group consisting of two teams followed carrying first aid supplies, a litter and ropes and other technical gear.
After several hours of searching in very difficult conditions, the PMR teams had not located the subject. Visibility was poor–at times 4 feet or less–and wind muffled their shouts and whistle blasts. The PMR teams searched the area below Crater Rock, the Hogsback and Devils Kitchen without making contact with the subject.
During this time, cell phone communications with the subject were lost. The subject had been taking calls from friends, texting with the sheriff and friends and posting on Facebook. His battery eventually gave out.
Finally, around 11:45 p.m., there was a brief improvement in conditions with increased visibility and lower winds. During that interlude, PMR rescuers made voice and visual contact with the subject and reached him quickly. They gave the subject warm drink and completed a short medical assessment. They determined that the subject could walk out with assistance.
Still navigating in difficult conditions, they descended to the top of the Palmer lift and a waiting snow cat around 1:30 a.m. All teams were out of the field at approximately 2:00 a.m.
This was a challenging rescue due to the very difficult mountain conditions. PMR encourages climbers to conservatively interpret weather forecasts and not to climb into approaching storm systems. All climbers should be prepared for conditions to suddenly deteriorate; they should carry compass, map and GPS and be proficient with navigation in difficult conditions.
The subject’s cell phone was an important factors in this rescue. Climbers, however, should not depend on cell phones, due to limited back country reception and because cell phones are not designed to function in extreme environments. When back country travelers needing rescue have functioning cell phones, they should carefully preserve battery charge by keeping the cell phone warm in their parka and should use it only for essential communication or navigation functions. Text messages consume far less battery charge than voice calls or internet use, and text messages often can be transmitted even when a voice connection cannot be established.