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Mt Hood - Fall on Snow - Cooper Spur

September 6, 1997

Summary - A skier fell on the lower Cooper Spur while still ascending. He was not attempting to climb to the summit and was close to stopping and descending. He was killed in the 1500 ft fall, a typical outcome for falls from the spur.

This is the report from the 2000 edition of
"Accidents in North American Mountaineering":

FALL ON SNOW, CLIMBING UNROPED, SNOW CONDITIONS-NEVE
Oregon, Mount Hood, Cooper Spur

On September 6, Mark Fraas (40) fell 1500 feet down the Cooper Spur after losing his footing.

Analysis

There have been at least 13 fatalities on the Cooper Spur. All follow a similar scenario: loss of footing, inability to self-arrest, and a long fall over rock cliffs above the Eliot Glacier. Because of the hazardous fall line, this route should only be attempted when conditions give firm footing and the party is prepared for immediate self-arrest. These conditions are usually present in the very early hours of spring mornings.

Friends of Mark Fraas indicated that he had climbed Mount Adams and Mount Hood several times, that he was an expert telemark skier, and that he was not a foolhardy person. He and his partner, Rodney Brenneman, were carrying skis and were not trying to reach the summit.

It was also reported that he was a person who "did everything to the limit." Further "He was always ebullient, enthusiastic... operating at a different level than most people." (Source: Jeff Sheetz, Portland Mountain Rescue; and "The Oregonian," September 8,1997).

Excerpts from a letter by Rodney Brenneman, Fraas' partner to the Crag Rats Mcmntain Rescue offered the following:

I feel there are three likely potential causes of Mark's fall: One, he was hit by a rock and knocked off balance. While he wasn't wearing a helmet, there was almost no rock-fall and this seems highly unlikely. Two, his crampons lost grip or edge points broke out. I found no icy or crusty spots at all, nor was the snow the slightest bit slushy (I was wearing gloves with no shell, placing my one hand against the snow constantly, and my gloves weren't the slightest bit wet). This is possible, but seems less likely than the third possibility: He caught his crampon points (probably left foot) on his leggings as he stepped through. This I believe is the most likely cause. Mark was wearing leg warmers he had made, which could be pulled down to boot top (like cyclists use) if they become too warm. He had these pulled down (as well as his sleeves off) at the time of the fall. Given the steepness of the slope, there would be a very small space for the uphill leg stepping through during traversing.

Regardless of the cause, the fact that Mark was traversing (piolet canne) without anchoring his ax meant any slip was a fall. Finally, once he lost his ax (and without a leash to perhaps help him retain it) there was no chance of arrest. I also have no idea how familiar he was with self-arrest techniques.

I understand from others that Mark was an excellent and experienced telemark skier. Nothing I know or heard about Mark indicates that he had any experience as a "climber" - except in the context of doing approaches for skiing. I have climbed and taught rock climbing for a number of years, and climb grade WI 4 ice. Mark had the knowledge of the local terrain, fitness and confidence of an experienced "climber." In retrospect, it is my gut feeling that he may not have had the experience to judge when he had crossed over his technical limitations and when to adopt a more conservative approach.

Cooper Spur should never be climbed fourth class - roped but without placing protection. You don't stand a chance of holding another climber's fall on this steep a slope without some anchor. I don't feel unroped climbing is unnecessarily dangerous for an experienced climber on this route-as it is the fastest method of ascent. Personally the only change I would have made would have been to use two axes in piolet panne (with leashes) so that I always had an anchor It is just as fast and is safer. There is a danger with two axes and leashes should you somehow come off, however I believe that self arrest is nearly impossible from the upper slope in the neve conditions we had and that the climber must not fall.

In conclusion, I think information which alerts people to the seriousness of the Cooper Spur route is one of the best accident prevention tools. The most dangerous aspect of the Cooper Spur route is that it never really looks or feels dangerous or particularly exposed-at least until one is very committed to the upper portion.

This is a news story from the Associated Press:

Hood River man killed climbing Mount Hood was experienced athlete

09/08/97 3:21 AM Eastern

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) -- Friends say Mark Fraas was an experienced athlete who had climbed Mount Hood and Mount Adams several times and was an expert telemark skier, kayaker, and top-rated martial arts specialist.

But the 40-year-old's experience couldn't save him Saturday as a fatal fall took him 1,500 feet over ice, snow and rocks on the northeast side of Mount Hood.

Fraas and Rodney Brenneman of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., were carrying skis along the Cooper Spur route Saturday morning. They were not trying to reach the summit, said Craig McCurdy, a spokesman for the Mount Hood Crag Rats, a mountain-rescue team. It is not clear how high the men had planned to climb.

About 7:30 a.m., the men reached the 10,000-foot level of the 11,240-foot peak. Fraas lost his grip and slid through an area known as the Chisholm Trail, the Hood River County Sheriff's office said. He landed on the upper part of Eliot Glacier.

Minutes later, Brenneman called for help on a cellular phone.

About 25 rescuers and volunteers responded, including the Crag Rats, the sheriff's office and a helicopter team from the 304th Rescue Squadron of the 939th Rescue Wing of the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

The helicopter team used a cable to lower three rescuers and a litter to the mountain just downslope of Fraas, an Air Force spokesman said. Not until rescuers climbed up the mountain did they discover that Fraas was dead.

Brenneman was not injured.

Fraas owned Airtime Hood River, Inc., which manufactured clothing for mountain sports. He outfitted ski patrols and racing teams, friends said.

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