Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

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Gobsprogram111
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Joined: April 12th, 2021, 7:01 pm

Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by Gobsprogram111 » April 12th, 2021, 7:08 pm

Brand new poster. Originally posted this on reddit but wanted to share with a larger audience. Picture link below.

On Friday, just steps from the hiker's trail on the eastern edge of the Timberline resort property I was descending from a solo trip up the trail to the top of the Palmer Lift. I hiked up at around 11:00 am, reached the top of Palmer lift at around 1:15, ate my lunch and had a nice descent. I descended along the trail, venturing a little bit outside the trail to find soft snow for my snowshoes.

The snowfield was wide as I came down below Silcox hut. I took to the eastern side of the snowcat trail. I saw dozens of people skiing, hiking and snowshoeing in the area. The parking lot was in sight, I was at approximately 6,500 feet, down from the 8500 at the top of the lift. Just 1000 feet to go.

Suddenly and without warning the snow violently gave way underneath me and I plunged deep into what the snow. A cleft about 25-30 feet deep swallowed me. This was a low elevation. This was in an area riddled with back country ski tracks, this was just STEPS from the snowcat trail. There was no creek bed or anything obvious.

I was alone.. Nobody saw me... my wife had an idea of where I was, but this is a very big area and she wouldn't be worried until it got much later in the day. Dying alone in this crag felt like a very real possibility for me, either slowly through exposure, or quickly through collapse.

I tried to climb out.. I gained as much of the ledge as I could, but the mouth of the opening was too high up for me to pull myself out without risk of falling and injuring myself or falling deeper. It took me about 15 minutes to get up to a tentative perch where I frantically searched for my cell phone. Worried that I'd drop my phone into the abyss. Threw my bag to the top so it could be viewed. Started to yell for help.. Futile

Found my cell phone.. called 911. Thankfully I was in range. They said they'd call me back in 30 while they worked to get a rescue moving. Honestly, I was terrified and worried about collapse. I called my wife and relayed my information to Mt. Hood ski patrol. They called me, and I described where i was but they had a hard time spotting my location, but ultimately they spotted my bag.

I stood there on the ledge, barely able to hold onto the steep snow. My feet exhausted from clinging.

30 minutes or so after the call, I hear a voice. They pull together a snow anchor. The ski patrol rescuer climbs into the crag, builds me a harness. They pull me out. Absolute heros and the Mt. Hood Ski Patrol.

Honestly, the fear I felt while falling alone into that hole was the most terrifying thing I've experienced. I could not comprehend that one moment I was snowshoing down a wide open area, and the next I was deep under the surface.

The ski patrol described the condition as pretty much a freak occurrence, but that it is the second type of rescue they've done at low elevation for someone falling through a snow bridge that year. They couldn't recall this happening in years past.



Lessons learned:

1. Keep cell phone in a location on your person and practice retrieving it like a drill. If i dropped my phone into the abyss it was probably all over for me.

2. I have a rescue whistle that I keep in my bag that I wish I had around my neck. Will do so in the future.

3. I'm getting a Garmin Inreach.

4. I needed better gear to survive the night. I probably should've had a better base layer on. I didn't carry crampons or an Ice Axe because I wasn't attempting to go higher, but that would've helped me climb out alone.

5. Hiking alone.. man IDK.. I'm trying to evaluate what my rules of engagement should be for hiking alone. Probably no more snow solo for me, but honestly, It felt like I was just meandering down just by the ski resort. This has shaken my confidence big time.

6. Mt. Hood Ski patrol is unbelievable. Courageous. Calm. I could hear tension in their voices as they calmly put together a plan, and the relief when they pulled me up was such a shared joy. I've spent a lot of the weekend crying about the whole thing.

The whole thing has been so terrifying and so humbling. There was no apparent danger and suddenly I was in a fight for my life.

Edit: https://imgur.com/a/acd9pEm. here are some pictures from the ordeal. I was able to get one from the chamber while I awaited rescue from near the top. The deepest part of the crag and the lower chamber are obscured by my fat fingers. I debated even taking a picture while in there because my perch was so precarious but I had already been in contact w/ ski patrol and risked getting the shot. No way I could have climbed out although if there was no rescue coming I would've gotten creative and probably started digging horizontally with my hands to create a ramp??

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Chip Down
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by Chip Down » April 12th, 2021, 7:49 pm

Looks like you were too low/west for that to have been a White River Glacier crevasse. There are some creeks in that area, so I suspect that was the origin, even though you didn't see/hear running water.

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drm
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by drm » April 12th, 2021, 7:59 pm

Yeah, I'm so glad it worked out for you, and relatively quickly. I've got a Garmin Inreach and it is no guarantee. I lose signals in the oddest places sometimes, sometimes out in the open. Obviously it can get a signal in places a phone can't, but freak accidents can happen anywhere in the wilderness, or in the city too. And if you had been hiking with somebody else, what if they fell in with you?

Gobsprogram111
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Joined: April 12th, 2021, 7:01 pm

Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by Gobsprogram111 » April 12th, 2021, 8:20 pm

Chip Down wrote:
April 12th, 2021, 7:49 pm
Looks like you were too low/west for that to have been a White River Glacier crevasse. There are some creeks in that area, so I suspect that was the origin, even though you didn't see/hear running water.
Definitely not on the glacier and I don't think near a creek. I was pretty squarely on a ridge. Ski patrol described it as a spot where chunks of the snow had slipped down the hill toward the little valley and were subsequent covered by drifts. Downward avi bridge or something???

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mjirving
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by mjirving » April 12th, 2021, 9:06 pm

That is nuts! So glad it had a happy ending oh my gosh! Thanks so much for your calm and well thought through reflection on the event. I started carrying my inreach when I go skiing now too...even in-bounds stuff but more for heather canyon at Meadows which is in bounds but not well patrolled. I also carry my phone on a shoulder strap of my pack but I often have it unzipped for quick access which could be bad in a tumble. Thanks for sharing and nice work on the rescue!

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Charley
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by Charley » April 12th, 2021, 10:18 pm

Holy crap! I'm glad you got out okay.

That's such an odd spot for this. . . snow crevasse?
Gobsprogram111 wrote:
April 12th, 2021, 8:20 pm
Definitely not on the glacier and I don't think near a creek. I was pretty squarely on a ridge. Ski patrol described it as a spot where chunks of the snow had slipped down the hill toward the little valley and were subsequent covered by drifts. Downward avi bridge or something???
Here's a theory: this might have something to do with the regular grooming of the uphill cat track. Might it have the same effect as the "snow farming" they do on other parts of the Timberline Permit Area? Would it create a zone of snow deposition in the lee of the groomed area (more accurately, in the lee of the ridge of pushed up snow to the right and left of the groomed track)? And if there's enough wind (there sure has been recently), would that create something like a tree well around the "chunks of snow"? Areas of dense snow surrounding by pockets of less deposition?

That's a scary day, and I'm grateful you've shared your story so that we can be aware of this danger.

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retired jerry
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by retired jerry » April 13th, 2021, 4:51 am

wow! great story! great it ended well. Thanks for posting.

nice it was in good weather and you were in cell phone range

inreach would tell them your location which would be helpful

I go out by myself also. Not too much deep snow though. I'll have to keep this in mind.

squidvicious
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by squidvicious » April 13th, 2021, 5:52 am

I saw this on reddit and considered linking it here, so glad to see you did it yourself (and are here to do so!).

johnspeth
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by johnspeth » April 13th, 2021, 5:56 am

I've hiked that route a handful of times this year for some convenient side-country skiing. I've punched through a couple of times near the climbers' cat track, but nothing like your ordeal. I think the cavity that caught you was a product of wind and huge snowdrifts over gullies (Hood has a lot of those). The area around Silcox has lots of irregular non-snow features and it's exposed to hellatious wind and copious snow deposition. The wind builds drifts over anything that's not flat and eventually it bridges over it, creating your tiger trap. They're basically invisible. The NWAC often warns against cornice related risks. A big enough cornice eventually becomes a bridge.

If you tour around the huge snowfields between Zigzag and White River Canyons, you'll see all sorts wind related hazards. There are huge blowholes that repeat every year to some degree and many that are new from year to year.

Your report is a great reminder that the risks we face on snow will likely be the ones we aren't ready for. Expect the unexpected.

Gobsprogram111
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Re: Mt. Hood low elevation snow bridge collapse rescue

Post by Gobsprogram111 » April 13th, 2021, 7:27 am

johnspeth wrote:
April 13th, 2021, 5:56 am
I've hiked that route a handful of times this year for some convenient side-country skiing. I've punched through a couple of times near the climbers' cat track, but nothing like your ordeal. I think the cavity that caught you was a product of wind and huge snowdrifts over gullies (Hood has a lot of those). The area around Silcox has lots of irregular non-snow features and it's exposed to hellatious wind and copious snow deposition. The wind builds drifts over anything that's not flat and eventually it bridges over it, creating your tiger trap. They're basically invisible. The NWAC often warns against cornice related risks. A big enough cornice eventually becomes a bridge.

If you tour around the huge snowfields between Zigzag and White River Canyons, you'll see all sorts wind related hazards. There are huge blowholes that repeat every year to some degree and many that are new from year to year.

Your report is a great reminder that the risks we face on snow will likely be the ones we aren't ready for. Expect the unexpected.
I believe your description and the other description above about snow deposits in that area are exactly right. As I was in the hole a tremendous amount of snow accumulated around me just from drifting in that one hour. Steady, persistent snow drift down that hill the entire day. I'm sure the hole was completely covered within hours of me leaving.

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