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Mt Hood - Sandy Glacier - Trying to Beat a Storm

January 11, 2003

From the Oregonian

January 13, 2003

CLIMBERS ESCAPE MOUNT HOOD Keith Pearen and Greg Dausman weren't looking for a fight with a storm on Mount Hood. But they found one.

Starting their climb before dawn on Saturday, the Oregon State University students checked the weather reports. Foggy but calm, with a snowstorm heading toward the mountain late in the weekend, the forecasts said.

"We thought we could beat the storm," Pearen said. "We were going to summit and get back down by dark."

[Remainder of article is in the fee-based archives of the Oregonian]

Students caught on Mt. Hood
Caught in Avalanche going down

By Allison Pyburn
Barometer Editor

While most OSU students' Saturday night activities were progressing as planned, one pair's plans had taken what could have been a deadly twist off course.

Greg Dausman and Keith Pearen spent the night huddled together in a makeshift igloo, 9,000 feet up the side of Mt. Hood. What was expected to be a 12-hour climb to the top of the 11,235-foot mountain southeast of Portland turned into a cold, wet and sleepless night when weather conditions mandated a night's stay at the mountain.

Dausman, 19, and Pearen, 22, both members of OSU's mountain climbing club, were headed up the mountain's south side Saturday afternoon when whiteout conditions, not expected until later that evening, whipped and swirled them into blindness.

Acting on instinct, they crouched in a crevasse before snow began to trap them inside. Then, the two used their only tool -- a pot for boiling water -- to dig a snow cave for protection against the elements.

"We snuggled," Pearen said. The mechanical engineering and business majors sat on their backpacks, hunched next to one another. With warm water bottles down their shirts, they tried to sleep. The climbers estimate they got about 15 minutes of rest.

"We knew we were going to be cold and miserable," Dausman said. "We just had to plan on making it down on Sunday," Dausman said. And they did, safely.

As soon as the sun began to rise Sunday morning, Pearen was raring to go. After a little hesitation from Dausman, who wanted to wait for more light, the climbers packed up and headed down the mountain. The peak was covered with a blanket of fresh snow from the night's storm.

Wading through knee-deep snow, the two tried to decipher as best as they could their location on the mountain by using a compass and map. Dausman and Pearen took risks that weren't necessarily the best, they said. That was affirmed as they heard the tell-tale sound of an avalanche.

"It goes 'wump,'" Pearen said. "We go, 'expletive, avalanche!'"

Before they knew it, a river of snow came barreling down the mountain, sweeping both climbers up. For about 30 seconds, they swam with the snow, fighting the instinct to hold on to the mountain. The threat of avalanche was slight when the two began their ascent Saturday, but the layer of fresh snow on top of hard, packed snow had caused conditions severe enough to spur a disturbance simply by walking.

Dausman dug first himself, then Pearen, out of the chest-deep snow that enclosed them. They continued down the mountain, hoping to see the chair lifts that marked the homestretch toward their destination -- Timberline Lodge.

The climbers arrived at 7 p.m., Sunday night -- more than a day later than expected -- to a crowd of medical staff, television cameras and family. Following a lunch, dinner and breakfast of a couple of granola bars and water, the two wanted only one thing -- hamburgers. Both were found to be in good condition.

Dausman and Piernan have been involved in the OSU Mountain Club since their freshman year. The club keeps them active skiing, hiking and climbing most weekends.

"You definitely ask yourself why you do the things you do," Dausman said. Although most of the sport of climbing is painfully slow and methodical, he added, the accomplishment gained in reaching the destination is worth it. The potential danger of mountain sports, they said, is no reason to forgo those activities.

Two OSU students and Mountain Club members Cornelius Beilharz and Keeta Owens died on Mount Rainier in May 2002 when they fell into a crevasse following an encounter with whiteout conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OSU Barometer Letters to the Editor

Rescued Climbers Should have known better (Jan 23)

Shame on the two OSU "climbers" Greg Dausman and Keith Pearen. Shame on them for ignoring the weather report. The two should have known that an average successful climb of Mt. Hood in the winter requires at least 8 hours. Simple mathematics on their part would have revealed that starting Saturday evening would have put them on the summit around the same time of the incoming storm. Shame on them for not checking the avalanche report for Sunday morning -- the time of day they would have been descending -- assuming they could find the summit in the first place. Any avalanche forecast website, for instance, offers detailed forecasts for Mt. Hood specifically at least two days in advance, not to mention detailed weather reports.

One would think Dausman and Pearen's attitude and behavior would be an anomaly within the climbing community -- unfortunately it is not. Each year, enough "climbers" behave just the same to give the AAC enough material to publish Accidents in North American Mountaineering yearly. I wouldn't be surprised if Dausman and Pearen find their adventure in next year's issue.

And the best part? Taxpayers are left holding the bill. How much overtime pay was amassed assembling the medical staff awaiting our two "climbers?"

Though the two were right about "the potential danger of mountain sports is no reason to forgo those activities." Lack of experience is reason enough. Dausman and Pearen's ability to ignore weather and avalanche reports as well as the huge list of recommended equipment painted on the wall of the sign-in room for climbers at the Lodge speaks volumes about their judgment. The two should seriously consider a Level I avalanche class and some AMGA accredited climbing courses before they decide to venture out of the climbing gym again.

John P. Frieh,
Senior in chemistry

Typical Reaction to criticism (from clubs e-mail list)

Thank you all for pointing out the mud slinging in today's letters to the editor section of the Barometer. I read the article and pathetic fact that this guy was completely off on most all of his facts makes me almost feel sorry for this guy. At least READ the articles before you write about them. Anyone know a John P Frieh, Sr. in Chemistry Anyway, I'll speak with ---- and figure out if this guy even DESERVES a reply. ----

OSU Climbers - Do your research (Jan 28)

I am writing regarding the letter of Jan. 23 by John Frieh, "Rescued Climbers; Should have known better."

These climbers clearly made a poor choice of route given the forecast, which was readily available. They were in a remote area, were half-buried in an avalanche, and returned across the Reid glacier in low visibility at a dangerously low elevation with many icefalls and cliffs. They are very lucky.

Although climbers in general do not have an unusually high rate of accidents compared to other groups of outdoor users the accident rate among OSU students is inordinately high. For each of the incidents which have made it into the press, there have been several other close calls which have gone largely unnoticed. In one case during the past year an official university trip was rescued in Lane County. (And the public cost of that incident almost certainly exceeded that of the recent stand-by situation on Mt Hood.) The search and rescue community now constantly wonder where OSU students will show up next.

There are numerous other universities in the western U.S. with even easier access to steep, high mountain terrain. None of these universities have their students or their official trips rescued (or near-rescued) with any frequency whatsoever.

The underlying problem in all of the OSU incidents seems to be a lack of basic critical thinking skills and decision making abilities in areas such as route research, trip planning, and hazard and consequence evaluation.

Why is it that OSU students seem to be lacking in this type of reasoning ability?

Maybe it is time to stop viewing these incidents as isolated and unrelated and to begin to question the possible underlying causes for the apparent lack of appropriate reasoning and decision-making skills among university students here.

Jim Frankenfield,
Mountain guide and AMGA member

Additional Comments via e-mail

"They were registered to climb the Sandy Headwall, leaving at 5:30am on Saturday. There was bad weather from a significant snowstorm forecast for Saturday afternoon, night, and Sunday. That pretty much sums up the intelligence of that choice. I would think they would learn something about climbing committing routes with oncoming weather after losing a bunch of friends. Not only were they forced to bivouac, they were caught in an avalanche which buried them to their waists. Leaving at 5:30 for a route which has taken upwards of 12 hours in spring, with oncoming winter weather? How fast do they think they are?"

"Their bailout involved traversing low on the Reid glacier, which put them well below Illumination Rock. Several people commented they're lucky to be alive after traversing that area in a whiteout, where there are a number of cliffs and seracs as the Reid spills over into the canyon below. Unfortunately they were portrayed as heroic mountain veterans on channel 8 the next day, which will no doubt fuel additional irresponsibility."

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