Mount Hood Climbers Rescued

Tuesday, February 20th 2007, 6:44 am
By: News On 6

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. (AP) _ Trevor Liston saw one friend, then a second, then a third disappear over an icy ledge on Mount Hood. A black Labrador mix plunged over as well.

That left Liston and four others wondering what had happened to their companions _ two women and a man. They used a rope to lower one of their climbing party over the edge, trying to spot the trio.

But there was no sign of the three.

So the five remaining climbers decided to use a cell phone to call rescue authorities and ask for help as a snowstorm raged and winds howled at up to 70 mph.

The climbers' fall was the start of yet another drama on Oregon's highest mountain, one that had a happy ending Monday as rescuers reached the three who had slid about 500 feet.

All three, plus Velvet the 4-year-old dog, who had been clipped to a rope the trio of climbers had used, were transported off the 11,239-foot mountain Monday afternoon, accompanied by their rescuers.

``I'm really glad they were there for us. They did an incredible job. They were amazing,'' said Matty Bryant, one of the three climbers, thanking rescuers.

``We're soaking wet and freezing,'' said one of two rescued women as she walked from a tracked snow vehicle to an ambulance. After the three got in, Velvet leapt in after them.

The rescuers credited the group's rescue to two things _ one low-tech and one high-tech: Velvet, who offered warmth as the three climbers huddled overnight, and the activation of a radio transmitter the size of a sunglasses case that helped rescuers to the group.

``The most important part of this rescue is that they did everything right,'' said Lt. Nick Watt of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

Liston, who described himself as a veteran of Mount Hood climbs, said those in the party of eight had experience either rock climbing or mountaineering.

They'd known about the Mount Hood disaster that left three climbers dead in December. But Liston said that wasn't the reason the group decided to bring Mountain Locator Units, devices that can send out electronic signals to rescuers.

``We've been up on the mountain for many years,'' Liston said. ``With the group we were going up with this time, we just wanted another extra level of security, just in case something happened, especially with winter conditions.''

In addition to Bryant, 34, a teacher in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, the rescued climbers included Kate Hanlon, 34, a teacher in the suburb of Wilsonville.

The other woman, whose name was not released, was being treated for a head injury in Portland, said Jim Strovink, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

``She's going to be fine,'' he said, noting that she had walked most of the way down the mountain.

Velvet, owned by Bryant, had minor cuts and abrasions on her back feet and legs caused by prolonged exposure to the snow. She was cleared to go home.

``The dog probably saved their lives'' by lying across them during the cold night, said Erik Brom, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team.

As the group started out on Saturday, the weather was clear and Velvet was leading the way, Liston said. ``She looked back every once in awhile to make sure we were OK.''

They planned to scale the mountain the next morning. But a storm started moving in. On Sunday, they started their descent with high winds and blowing snow making for perilous going.

``You had no visual reference around you to determine if you were going up or down,'' Liston said. ``You could make out a climber at 30 feet at best.''

After the three climbers fell, the remaining five made a distress call and hunkered down in a snow cave. Searchers brought the main group down to Timberline Lodge on Sunday evening.

Liston said he felt that he and his climbing companions were well-equipped for climbing Mount Hood in the winter _ bringing with them cell phones, Global Positioning System gear and the beacons.

``We'd been in those conditions up on this mountain before,'' he said. ``We've walked out in whiteouts before. We didn't know it was going to be that bad. But we were prepared that it might be snowing and blowing.''

Liston said he understands critics who say people climbing Mount Hood during the winter are putting not only their own lives at risk, but also the lives of rescuers dispatched when something goes wrong.

``It's a kind of delicate balance,'' he said, ``about doing winter climbing, and pushing some of those limits, and not doing it, and only climbing in the summer in shorts and T-shirts.

``It's kind of a point of pride you might say for a lot of climbers _ that you can take care of yourself out there.''

Still, Liston said, ``Things happen.''