The Hype on Hood

Hood strikes again, as a female climber gets killed by chunk of falling ice. Why is this mountain so deadly?

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Mt. Hood added to its deadly reputation yesterday by claiming another climber—this time it was a woman climbing with her husband who got killed when a chunk of ice near the Pearly Gates hit her. She fell over 400 feet, and when her husband reached her, she had already died. Weather Channel has the video.

But we checked in with resident survival guru Steve Howe, and he thinks that maybe we shouldn’t buy the hype on Hood. Check it:

“Hood is probably the most popular summit in America. This is just another accident that occurred in the Pearly Gates, a very simple, straightforward gully that goes from the southwest snowfields to the summit ridge on the mountain’s easiest route.

Since Hood’s summit can be reached so easily via this route from the top of Mt. Hood Meadows ski lifts, the mountain attracts tons of inexperienced climbers (always listed in news reports as expert), who might find Shasta or Rainier too much. This is especially true when the weather’s warm and bluebird: A lot of these novice-types are emboldened by good weather, and not very aware of accompanying high-temp dangers like avalanche and rockfall.

When sun hits these southwest slopes, the rime (frozen fog) that’s normally plastered onto the rocks starts falling into the Gates like a defrosting freezer, and people get hit. And then there are the wet snow slides, sudden maritime whiteouts and triple digit wind speeds whenever a big storm rolls off the Pacific.

Note that the sheriff mentioned there was “debris flowing” during the rescue—that should have been a turnaround signal for the climbers.

Short version: Hood’s position as the one of the most mayhem-prone peaks in North America is more about the class of climbers it attracts than the mountain, its terrain, or even its weather.

The mountain’s media position is also because of old heli crash footage, and the fact that van-based news crews can set up big telephotos in the parking lot and see up to the Pearly Gates—not so for most big North American peaks where accidents happen.”

—Ted Alvarez

Climber killed by falling ice (Weather Channel)