Thanks to a high-tech electronic gadget and a big warm dog named Velvet, three climbers rescued after a harrowing fall and a night in the wind and cold high on Mount Hood are expected to be fine.
They were found at about the 7,400-foot level on Monday and hiked down the mountain with their rescuers.
“I’m really glad they were there for us,” Matty Bryant, one of the three climbers, said of the rescue teams. “They did an incredible job. They were amazing.”
Searchers credited the group’s rescue to two things — Velvet, a black Labrador mix who provided warmth as the three climbers huddled under sleeping bags and a tarp, and the activation of an emergency radio beacon the size of a sunglasses case that guided them to the group.
“The most important part of this rescue is that they did everything right,” said Lt. Nick Watt of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
The three climbers set out on Saturday with five other friends — all in the 20s and 30s and from the Portland area — to scale the 11,239-foot mountain, Oregon’s tallest.
‘No visual reference’
However, a storm moved in and on Sunday they started their descent in blowing snow.
“You had no visual reference around you to determine if you were going up or down,” said one member of the group, Trevor Liston. “You could make out a climber at 30 feet at best.”
Then he saw the group of three — all roped together with Velvet — disappear over an icy ledge.
Liston and the four others used a rope to lower one of their climbing party over the edge in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the trio.
Then they used a cell phone to call for help as the wind howled at up to 70 mph.
Liston, who described himself as a veteran of Mount Hood climbs, said all eight had experience at either rock climbing or mountaineering.
They’d known about the Mount Hood disaster in which three climbers died in December. But Liston said that wasn’t the reason the group decided to take Mountain Locator Units, the small beacons that can send out radio signals to rescuers.
“We’ve been up on the mountain for many years,” Liston said. “With the group we were going up with this time, we just wanted another extra level of security, just in case something happened, especially with winter conditions.”
In addition to Bryant, 34, a teacher in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, the rescued climbers included Kate Hanlon, 34, a teacher in the suburb of Wilsonville; and Christina Ridl, 26, whose occupation was not immediately known.
Ridl was being treated for a head injury in Portland, said Jim Strovink, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. “She’s going to be fine,” he said.
Velvet, owned by Bryant, had minor cuts and abrasions on her back paws and legs from prolonged exposure to the snow, but she was cleared to go home.
“The dog probably saved their lives” by lying across them during the cold night, said Erik Brom, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team.
‘We were prepared’
Liston said he felt that he and his climbing companions were well-equipped for climbing Mount Hood in the winter — bringing with them cell phones, Global Positioning System gear and the beacons.
“We’d been in those conditions up on this mountain before,” he said. “We’ve walked out in whiteouts before. We didn’t know it was going to be that bad. But we were prepared that it might be snowing and blowing.”
Liston said he understands critics who say people climbing Mount Hood during the winter are putting not only their own lives at risk, but also the lives of rescuers dispatched when something goes wrong.
“It’s a kind of delicate balance,” he said, “about doing winter climbing, and pushing some of those limits, and not doing it, and only climbing in the summer in shorts and T-shirts.
“It’s kind of a point of pride you might say for a lot of climbers — that you can take care of yourself out there.”
Still, Liston said, “Things happen.”