On Sunday night, Clackamas County Search & Rescue (CSAR) volunteers undertook a difficult overnight search-and-rescue mission to locate a lost climber on the southwest flanks of Mt Hood.
The experienced, 45-year-old alpine climber was visiting from Mexico to attempt a solo climb of the 11,240' mountain. He was well-equipped for his ascent, departing Timberline Lodge at 1 a.m. Sunday (Feb. 4) under good climbing conditions. He summited at sunrise, then began making his way back down the mountain.
Unfortunately, the weather rapidly deteriorated.
Strong east winds created "whiteout" conditions that soon enveloped the climber, reducing visibility to fewer than 20 feet. He could no longer see the route back to the lodge.
At this point, he began navigating with a hand-held GPS unit — until a sudden gust of wind caused him to drop and lose the GPS.
For several hours on Sunday, the climber continued down the mountain. Unfortunately, without GPS, he veered too far to the west — dropping into the upper reaches of the Zigzag River Canyon. Following the river down the canyon, he crossed over the Timberline Trail, which was totally unrecognizable under several feet of snow. As darkness fell on Sunday evening, he continued downhill another mile to an elevation of 4,050 feet, where he realized he was lost, unable to determine which direction would lead him back to a road.
Fortunately, he had cell-phone service, and made the smart decision to call 911, connecting with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
At about 10:40 p.m. on Sunday night, Sheriff's Office Search & Rescue (SAR) Coordinators made a request for CSAR ground-searchers.
Teams assembled at Timberline Lodge and headed out around 1 a.m. on Monday (Feb. 5). Visibility was still limited, with 25° temperatures and wind gusts over 50 mph.
After traveling nearly five miles in difficult cross-country conditions over steep, ice-covered slopes, searchers spotted the climber's headlamp, reaching him about 4 a.m. He was in relatively good condition, but exhausted after over 24 hours of hard physical work in harsh weather.
Meanwhile, a team from Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) entered the field via the Paradise Park Trail, ready to back up rescuers if the preferred exit route proved unsuccessful.
The climber made his way with CSAR volunteers through four more difficult miles of snow-covered canyon — reaching Kiwanis Camp Road just before 10 a.m. on Monday to conclude this successful rescue.
Mountain Wave Emergency Communications provided radio communications throughout the mission.
Learn more about CSAR at http://clackamassar.org
Brian McCall, Public Information Officer
Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office