On June 9, volunteers from Portland Mountain Rescue helped two climbers who had fallen off the the Coleman Headwall, a steep slope high on the south face of Mount Hood. It was the group's eighth recorded mission this year to rescue an injured or lost climber on Hood—and the heavy climbing season continues through the end of June.
Each year, more than 10,000 people seek to summit Oregon's tallest mountain. The vast majority of them make it back down without incident. A handful don't.
In the past 10 years, 16 climbers have died on Hood's slopes. (The mountain's most infamous disaster, in 1986, claimed the lives of nine people on an Oregon Episcopal School trip.)
It's unclear where Hood ranks among the nation's deadliest peaks. Oregon ranks as the sixth most dangerous state for mountaineering deaths.
Portland Mountain Rescue completes about 15 missions a year to save people hurt or lost on Hood. Spokesman Mark Morford says most accidents are the result of climbing without a proper belay, especially in bad weather or on crowded days. "How dangerous a place is," Morford says, "is largely a function of where people go the most."
1. Mazama Chutes
June 4, 2015: Idaho grandfather Ward Maxwell, 66, falls to his death from this route—the most recent death on the mountain.
For the past decade, this has been the most popular route up Hood. But it passes beneath and through icy cliffs. "It's crappy ice," says Morford. "As the ice melts every year, it just rains down." Worse, the area where falling climbers land, known as Hot Rocks, is pocked with fumaroles: volcanic vents releasing toxic gases.
2. Hogsback/Pearly Gates
Jan. 21, 2009: A basketball-sized chunk of ice strikes 31-year-old Portland nurse Brooke Colvin in the face, and she falls 400 feet to her death.
This route through the volcano crater is hugely popular. On a summer weekend morning, as many as 200 people can be seen at the base of the ridge called the Hogsback waiting to climb. "Many of the worst accidents are caused by other climbers, knocking down ice or falling into another roped team," Morford says, "or efforts to avoid other climbers when the crater is busy."
3. Cooper Spur
Aug. 11, 2013: Polish soldier Sebastian Kinasiewicz, 32, dies after plunging more than 100 stories on a solo climb.
Few climbers brave Hood's northeast slopes—for good reason. "The north side of Mount Hood is worse than all of the south routes," says Deputy John Gibson of the Clackamas County sheriff's search and rescue division. "That whole side is just sketchy."
4. Reid and Sandy Headwalls
Dec. 13, 2009: Three climbers die on Reid Glacier. It takes more than 10 months to recover two of their bodies.
These routes are among the steepest up the mountain. "People tend to fall and get themselves killed there," says Gibson. "They're going to fall farther because it's near vertical in those places."
5. Mississippi Head
March 11, 2016: Asit Rathod, 43, gets lost climbing down and is helped off cliffs to safety by Portland Mountain Rescue.
While few people fall or die on the gradual slope below Crater Rock, many get lost there while trying to return to Timberline Lodge in low visibility, usually veering west until they hit the sheer cliffs at Mississippi Head. "The natural topography of the mountain shucks them off to the west," says Gibson. "It's just the way the contour of the mountain is. It sucks people in when they can't see."
6. Zigzag Canyon
July 23, 2012: A hiker chases after his lost golden retriever, Ranger, in the canyon—and both have to be pulled out by harness.
Rescue groups expect regular calls from Zigzag, Little Zigzag and Sand canyons—often from climbers who wander too far west, sometimes from overwhelmed hikers. "They end up a couple hundred feet from the Timberline Trail," says Morford. "There's no landmarks, you can't see your way out. It's where they stop and call us."