PORTLAND, OREGON – In a daring overnight operation, the Clackamas County Search & Rescue (CSAR) team successfully located and rescued a 45-year-old experienced climber from Mexico, lost on the treacherous southwest flanks of Mt. Hood. The climber, who embarked on a solo journey to conquer the 11,240-foot peak, faced unforeseen challenges that tested his survival skills and endurance.
The adventure began under favorable conditions early Sunday morning, February 4, 2024, as the climber left Timberline Lodge at 1 a.m., aiming to reach the summit by sunrise. His ascent was successful, but during his descent, the weather took a perilous turn. Strong east winds brought in “whiteout” conditions, drastically reducing visibility and making the route back to the lodge indiscernible.
In an unfortunate twist, the climber lost his hand-held GPS unit to a gust of wind, leaving him to navigate without electronic guidance. His journey took him too far west, into the upper Zigzag River Canyon, and eventually to an elevation of 4,050 feet, where he realized he was lost. With night falling and conditions worsening, he made a crucial decision to call 911, reaching out to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office for help.
Responding promptly, SAR coordinators mobilized CSAR ground-searchers who set out from Timberline Lodge around 1 a.m. on Monday, February 5. Battling limited visibility, freezing temperatures, and fierce winds, the search teams pressed on through the night. Their perseverance paid off when they spotted the climber’s headlamp, reaching him at about 4 a.m. Despite being exhausted, he was in relatively good health after enduring more than a day of intense physical effort against the elements.
The rescue operation was bolstered by the support of Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR), who were on standby to assist, and Mountain Wave SAR, who provided essential radio communications. After navigating another four miles through snow-covered terrain, the rescue team and the climber safely arrived at Kiwanis Camp Road just before 10 a.m., marking the end of a harrowing ordeal.
SAFETY TIPS & LESSONS LEARNED
This successful rescue underscores the importance of preparedness, the value of emergency communication devices, and the indomitable spirit of the human will to survive. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office reminds all climbers and outdoor enthusiasts to take heed of the following safety tips:
- Always Check Weather Conditions: Before embarking on a climb, ensure you are aware of the current and forecasted weather conditions.
- Carry Reliable Communication Devices: In addition to a GPS unit, have a fully charged cell phone and consider carrying a satellite messenger or personal locator beacon.
- Leave Your Plan with Someone: Inform someone of your route and expected return time.
- Carry Essential Gear: This includes navigation tools, extra food and water, layers for changing weather, a headlamp, and a basic first aid kit.
- Know Your Limits: Be realistic about your skill level and physical condition. Turn back if conditions become unsafe.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and its dedicated volunteers at CSAR continue to stand ready to assist those in need. Their commitment to safety and their expertise in rescue operations remain invaluable to the outdoor community. For more information on CSAR and tips on mountain safety, visit http://clackamassar.org.