Thursday, January 22, 2009

Death on the Mountain

Last night I was driving home after dark, headed east on I-84. Even though it was barely visible against the night sky, I knew Mt. Hood was looming in front of me. I saw something bright in the sky, not really moving. Often I see airplanes headed for PDX, but they move fast and in a straight line. This appeared to be a helicopter hovering with a bright search light focused downward. My heart sank and I had that familiar dread go through me. There must be a Search and Rescue in progress. Trouble on the mountain where unstable ice has been falling in large chunks and one climber was badly injured just a few days ago.

When I got home and turned on the news, I learned it was a recovery mission and not a rescue. A beautiful young woman climbing with her husband had been hit by falling ice and fallen 400 feet. His efforts to revive her had been futile and he had skied out for help. Another life lost in the pursuit of the summit.

Mt. Hood is a tough climb and even more challenging in the winter. Even experienced climbers can encounter conditions that are dangerous and life threatening. And the mountain is unforgiving. The weather in winter is unpredictable and can change from moment to moment.

We are blessed in this area to have teams of incredibly skilled SARS climbers who are willing to risk their own lives to go out in rough conditions to provide assistance to those in trouble. This time, help was too late to save a life. Nevertheless, they rallied to recover the body.

Today, a heated discussion rages on local blogs regarding climbers paying for rescue/recovery operations. There are many who think the risk takers should assume full responsibility if they run into trouble. There are others (usually the rescuers themselves) who believe strongly that no one should be charged for what the rescuers do voluntarily. Someday I might need help out on the trail and I hope I don’t have to have my credit card with me in order to get someone to respond.


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