Logo Jim Frankenfield
jim@mountain-guiding.com; 1-877-604-0166

Mountain Guiding; Mountain Safety
An Experienced Professional

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Guiding Newsletter

Accident Analysis Archive - July 1999


Cooper Spur, Mt Hood - Fall on Snow, Planning

This spring there was a fatal fall on the Cooper Spur on Mt Hood. This a relatively common event (as accidents go anyway, happening every 2-3 years). Mt Hood being the urban mountain it is there is always a lot of press coverage, most of which is inaccurate.

This fatality had a number of things in common with the last climbing fatality on the spur. (The last actual fall, in between the last climbing fatality and this one, was a skier who was climbing but not intending to summit. This was misrepresented in the Oregonian.)

  • Both occurred on the descent
  • Both occurred in very warm conditions (although at different times of day)
  • Both involved one person falling and the rope mate(s) not able to hold it

It is not clear whether this team was using anchors. The last was not. No anchors means a fall must be held or down you all go. In this case it may have been very difficult to place reliable anchors in the soft wet snow.

According to a newsgroup report from somebody who spoke to one of the deceased on the summit they found the upper section to be very soft and scary. Having found that on the way up they chose to downclimb it anyway.

While we don't know exactly how they made any of their decisions it appears that the location of their tent may have played a key role. It was close to the bottom of the spur. Descending the south side would have meant not only getting a ride around the mountain but also hiking the Tilly Jane Trail (very steep) because the Cloud Cap road was still snowed in. Then from Tilly Jane they would need to climb up to the base of the spur again. A descent down the Sunshine route would mean a roundabout return across the Eliot Glacier. So there were some major incentives to downclimb the spur, it seems.

One of the biggest lessons taught in a good basic avalanche class is to be cognizant of the factors behind your decision. How much emphasis are you putting on expediency? Not that there is a right or wrong answer - we all think differently and we all perceive and accept risk differently. Many of us may have made the same decision. But being aware of what you are basing decisions on is important. It is possible to put a lot of weight on things like expediency without fully appreciating it at the time.


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