Climbers Leave Mount Hood; Rescuer Credits Black Lab With Saving Their Lives

Monday, February 19th 2007, 6:17 am
By: News On 6

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. (AP) _ Three climbers who tumbled off a ledge on Mount Hood were taken away in an ambulance after they hiked down much of the state's highest peak with their rescuers _ and a dog who may have saved their lives.

``We're soaking wet and freezing,'' said one of two rescued women as she walked from a tracked snow vehicle to an ambulance.

One of the women, whose name was not released, was taken to a Portland hospital and being treated for a head injury, 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.

Two others, Matty Bryant, 34, a teacher in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, and Kate Hanlon, 34, a teacher in the suburb of Wilsonville, were taken to Timberline Lodge on the mountain to rejoin five other members of the climbing party, he said.

Rescuers using an electronic locating device found the three climbers and their black Labrador, Velvet, on Monday morning in the White River Canyon, where they had holed up overnight at about 7,400 feet, officials said. The crew hiked with them down the east flank of the 11,239-foot mountain; on the way down, the climbers got into a tracked snow vehicle that took them to the ambulance.

``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. He described the wind in the canyon as ``hellacious.''

The two women left the snow vehicle first, followed by Bryant and the dog. The three climbers boarded the ambulance, and Velvet leapt in after them.

As he was departing, Bryant said of the rescuers: ``I'm glad they were there for us.''

In addition to the dog, who provided warmth and comfort, rescuers attributed the happy outcome to the climbers' use of an electronic mountain locator unit that guided searchers to their exact position.

``That's why it is a rescue, not a recovery,'' Sheriff's Lt. Nick Watt said at a news conference at the lodge, a ski resort at 6,000 feet.

The three were in a party of eight that set out Saturday for the summit, camped on the mountain that night and began to come back down on Sunday when they ran into bad weather, officials said.

As they were descending at about 8,300 feet, the three slipped off a ledge. They slid about 500 feet down an incline and later moved miles from the site of the fall, descending, rescuers said.

``They're lucky to be alive after that,'' Strovink said.

Trevor Liston of Portland, who was among the five who made it off the mountain Sunday, said at a news conference that the three climbers in the lead were holding onto a rope when they slipped over the ledge. The dog was clipped to the rope and was also dragged down, he said.

``The lead climber went,'' and ``two people right behind him didn't have enough time to react,'' Liston said.

Other climbers used a rope to lower a companion about 60 feet to try to spot the trio, but there was no sign of them, Liston said. The climbers decided to call authorities with a cell phone, rather than attempt a rescue.

``It's a very hard decision to make,'' but ``we didn't want to have eight people fall instead of three,'' said Liston, who described himself as a veteran Mount Hood climber.

Rescue officials maintained regular cell phone contact overnight with the three who had fallen.

Battling winds up to 70 mph and blowing snow, rescue teams had worked through the night trying to locate the climbers, said Russell Gubele, coordinating communications for the rescue operation.

Teams made it close to the missing climbers overnight, but decided to wait until daylight Monday because they couldn't see anything, Gubele said. Rescuers moved cautiously during the night because of ``very severe avalanche danger,'' he said.

Gubele described the trio as ``experienced rock climbers, but not necessarily experienced in mountain climbing.''

In December, three climbers who did not have mountain locator units went missing on the mountain. Authorities searched for days, but were able to recover the body of only one climber, Kelly James of Dallas, who died of hypothermia. The bodies of Brian Hall of Dallas and Jerry ``Nikko'' Cooke of New York have not been found.

In the past 25 years, more than 35 climbers have died on Mount Hood, one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world.