Climbers Stranded on Mount Hood

By Tanya Pluth ,

High winds and heavy snow continue to hamper search efforts for three climbers stranded on Oregon's Mount Hood (11,249 feet). Dallas, Texas, residents Brian Hall, 37, and Kelly James, 48, along with Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of Brooklyn, New York, set out on Thursday, December 7, to climb the highly technical Cooper Spur on the northeast side of the mountain. Rescue officials are describing the three as experienced climbers who chose a fast and light technique. They planned to descend the mountain's more tame south side and meet a friend at Timberline Lodge Saturday afternoon. When the climbers didn't show by Sunday morning, family members and friends raised the alarm. Information about the party's location and condition came from a cellphone call James made to his son on the afternoon of Sunday, December 10, from a snow cave near the summit. James mentioned an injury and stated that his companions had begun a descent to get help. The Hood River County Sheriff's office and Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) began coordinating search efforts Sunday afternoon, and search crews from throughout Oregon and southwest Washington started up the mountain on Monday morning. According to the Hood River County Sheriff's office, the location of the snow cave has been roughly triangulated using information from James' call. Still, rescue crews face the daunting task of searching some of Mount Hood's most challenging terrain in increasingly hostile weather. Battling 80 mph gusts and heavy snow over the past few days, crews reached points of 6,000 feet on the northeast side, and 8,000 feet on the south side, before being forced to retreat. "The weather was pretty gnarly. Visibility was horrendous and the wind just kept knocking us over," Tom Scully, a search and rescue member, told the Hood River News. The weather is not expected to improve, hampering search efforts on the upper portions of the mountain, where the climbers are thought to be located. Rescue officials remain hopeful, however, that the climbers' experience level will facilitate their survival under the current harsh conditions. James has more than 25 years of climbing experience, and the tick list of the group includes Denali, Mount Rainier, and several South American peaks. None of the climbers had prior experience on Mount Hood. This marks the latest in a legacy of accidents and near-misses on Hood's northeast side, considered the mountain's most difficult terrain. Jeff Smoot's The Summit Guide to the Cascade Volcanoes calls Cooper's Spur " ... quite steep and exposed. Falls from this route are common and often fatal." The route includes numerous ice headwalls, steep chutes, and high avalanche danger during periods of heavy snow. As the Cooper Spur is notoriously difficult on descent, search officials are particularly concerned about Cooke and Hall, who likely came down the route. Most parties choose to avoid this danger by summiting and continuing down the south side, Mount Hood's standard route, which sees an average of 10,000 ascents each year. The high numbers of ascents and technically easy nature of Mount Hood's standard route have given the mountain a reputation for being tame, despite numerous accidents and fatalities on its upper slopes. Without specific information about which descent route Cooke and Hall chose, search officials have been sending crews up both Cooper Spur and the south side. Officials reported that a drone aircraft equipped with heat-seeking technology will scout for the climbers Thursday. Another major storm is expected to sweep through Oregon late Thursday and into Friday, blanketing the state with high wind warnings and the mountains with more snow. Sources: Hood river news Portland Mountain Rescue Traditional Mountaineering

Comment on this story

Join the Conversation