April 14, 2015 / Comments (1)

What it is like to spend the night on top of Mt. Hood during a blizzard

A few months ago, when I interviewed Mt. Hood rescue climber Jarod Cogswell about his new FIT Academy in Beaverton, he told me a harrowing story about spending the night on the summit of Mount Hood during brutal white-out blizzard in 2003.

Here is the story he told me, in his words:

The forecast wasn’t calling for much. Maybe a little snow but nothing big. And it turned into a two-foot snowstorm in 24 hours. We were climbing the Reid Headwall, and I was with an advanced snow and ice group from the Mazamas. There was no weather up to about 9800 feet. It was really cold, it was January 13th. And I just remember being in a belay spot for like an hour and not moving. We got stuck in really bad weather and it took us probably eight hours from there to reach the summit, and we still didn’t know we were on the summit. It was blowing 50-plus miles an hour.

There was a team of three and a team of two, and we all had to rope up. It was dark, there was a crazy blizzard and you couldn’t hear anything, the wind was so loud. We were communicating by pulling on the rope. We couldn’t hear each other. It was probably 6 or 7 at night, winds are just ferocious, and I’m cleaning the gear and my headlamp falls off. And I don’t know how it happened but I went like this (moves hand quickly) and I caught it in my hand. I was so freaked out about losing my headlamp, I was trying to get my breathing back. Because I needed to see where I was going. And you could barely see where you were going anyhow, even with the headlamp. But I  did not want to lose mine.

The idea was to get to the summit, go to the south side and find the easy way down, and get the hell out of there. But you just couldn’t see anything, and nothing looked right. So we all regrouped about 200 feet below the summit. We were just screaming at each other because we couldn’t hear anything. And I said, ‘Guys, I hate to be the one to say this, but we’ve got to dig a hole.’

It hadn’t snowed much recently, it had been a light snow year, so our hole sucked. It was terrible. But it still took us three hours to dig that thing. And the guy next to me, I didn’t think he was going to make it through the night. We were shivering out of control. You can’t control your body when that happens, your muscles are completely beyond your control. I never want to feel that again. You knew when it was coming but you couldn’t do anything about it. It hurt horribly. If you fell asleep you woke up shivering. And we went something like 36 hours without water. We didn’t have a stove.

And then in the middle of the night, about 3 in the morning, one of the guys to my left, said, ‘Hey guys, stay calm, don’t freak out, but the hole is closed.’ Down at the bottom of the cave, by our feet, it had filled in. And all of a sudden we realize, we are not breathing any air.

We had this whole strategy for staying calm, not breathing too much, and we’re doing everything we can to kick through but the snow was so heavy. It was that crusty Cascade crap, and we could not punch through. So finally I somehow got my head and just started burrowed through, and we got out. All of our stuff was buried. We didn’t know where any of our backpacks were. And for the rest of the night we were freaked out about the hole filling up again, so we were always on watch.

We did have cell service, and I called (fellow rescue climber Erik) Broms. He had just joined Portland Mountain Rescue at the time. We didn’t want a rescue but these guys were like ‘No way. We’re coming to get you. Stay put.’

We decided if they’re not here by noon, we’re gonna find a way out.

We were unpacking, trying to find our stuff in the snow, when PMR showed up. It took them six hours from the top of Palmer to get to us. That’s how bad it was. Marty Johnson was the first one to get to us in the snow cave. I remember that moment. He gets up there and goes, ‘Are you mobile?’

I said Yeah, and he said, ‘Let’s grab your shit and get the fuck out of here.’ Sounds good to me.

At that time I had climbed Mount Hood about 15 times, but when we were coming down, it didn’t look like Mount Hood to me. And we were seeing all sorts of stuff. We had had no water, we’d been up all night. We were just tripping out.

But Broms was waiting at the bottom. We made it.

Last modified: April 14, 2015

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