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LOST ON MOUNT HOOD, OREGON

 

 

By Betty Freauf

December 21, 2006

NewsWithViews.com

Little did I realize after writing about the James Lim family lost in the mountains in Josephine County, Oregon and the tragic results for the father that about the time that article was published on December 9th that on December 8th three east-coast, out-of-state climbers would be ascending 11,239 foot Mt. Hood about 250 miles to the northeast and that again the venture would turn out to be disastrous. Books will be written and these two unfortunate stories will be another movie for Hollywood.

Family members of the Mt. Hood climbers flew to Oregon to help keep the story alive in the national media. They assured us all three men were experienced climbers; however, the body of Kelly James, 48, of Dallas, Texas was discovered on Sunday, December 17th, by volunteer search and rescuers. Kelly was a landscape architect, married with four children ages 13 to 26.

In an effort to keep hope alive, his wife, Karen, said Kelly had proposed to her on Mount Rainer and they were planning to have their 50th wedding anniversary there so up until his frozen body was discovered she and Kelly’s brother, Frank, remained confident he was coming off the mountain safely. Still unexplained was why Kelly was found in a second snow cave but his sleeping bag, pick axes and rope were left behind in the first snow cave. Some speculate hypothermia after such a long period on the mountain may have caused Kelly to become confused.

His only communication with the outside world was a cell phone call on Sunday (December 10) to tell family members his party of three was in trouble. One report said an autopsy of his body revealed he’d injured his shoulder. His two friends had left the summit area for help. Authorities fear the strong winds that had swept over the area may have blown them into one of the many crevices on the mountain. There had been talk about the use of probes by volunteers to help find the bodies under the snow but as I’m drafting this article the search for their bodies has been called off. The sheriff said it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Kelly made a snow cave and hunkered down while his friends, Brian Hall, 37, of Dallas and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, 36, of Brooklyn, NY went for help. Brian was a personal trainer and a former professional soccer player. He was not married. Jerry was an attorney and married but had no children. Rescue workers and T-Mobile officials said Kelly’s phone had initiated a call at 7:20 a.m. Monday that didn’t get through and on Tuesday the phone stopped responding to the signals, or “pings” that technicians had been sending in hopes of raising a response and fixing the location of Kelly. His cell phone was later discovered soaked.

Inclement weather limited the rescue efforts for nearly a week keeping the searchers below 7,000 feet and the initial cell phone signal came in from near the top. They had left a note on the dashboard of their car in the parking lot at Timberline lodge telling when they were leaving, when they planned to be back down off the mountain and detailed the challenging route they’d planned to take with slopes of 50 or 60 degrees and sheer walls of ice. Experienced climbers say such an adventure on Mt. Hood in the summer months would have tested the climbers to the limit and should not have been attempted in the winter months. Snow and winds of 100 to 130 miles hit the mountain.

The whole Pacific Northwest got bombarded with high winds on Friday evening, December 15th. Our home was without power overnight and many rural homes still remain without power as electric companies work to restore service. The storm delivered a vicious blow as hurricane -strength winds toppled trees onto houses and downed trees closed many roads due to hazardous conditions and yet there were those lacking in common sense who went to the ocean to watch the waves. Rainfall from the storm dropped between two and three inches in the valley where I live with five inches in the Cascades and eight inches on the coast. Flood warnings were issued throughout the areas. In Oregon and Washington nearly a half million people or more were without power.

The debate continued to rage whether rescuers should be sent back up the mountain to try to locate the other two who were felt to be in an extremely volatile avalanche area and only helicopters were hovering over those areas on good weather days looking for clues. The families would like closure but the question being asked of those who believe the rescuers should continue is: If it was your volunteer father, son or brother going back on that mountain and possibly lose their lives, is it worth it?

These highly trained professional rescuers are mainly volunteers – men with a heart to save humanity from its stupidity but the sheriff continued to reiterate only so long as weather conditions were favorable would he send the teams up on the mountain to search for the other two but the question that has been asked by many: How many days? Three more? Five more? Just how many? Some of them may be paid by the hour on their regular jobs and they’d be losing money. Their bosses may be needing them on the job but they all agreed so long as the sheriff wanted them to go back after sufficient rest they would comply but as of Wednesday, December 20th, a source told me the search had been called off.

In an effort to give hope to the families, the Oregonian from Portland, Oregon on December 15, 2006 wrote about three teens stranded on Mount Hood for 13 days who walked off the mountain in January 1976 thirty pounds lighter but alive. They were sustained by the Bible, Jell-O and pancake mix. Weather again was a factor in the search efforts. Randy Knapp, now a finish carpenter and part-time pastor lives in Medford, Oregon was 18 at the time. His two friends, Matt Meacham and Gary Schneider, both 16, set off on New Year’s Eve 1975 for a summit climb from Timberline Lodge. They were well prepared with 10 day’s rations, down coats and sleeping bags, crampons, rope, ice axes and a stove but this was before cell phones and perhaps even before Mountain Locator units (MLU) which now are still only used by about half the climbers.

Now, it may be possible these three out-of-state climbers did not have sufficient food supplies that these teenagers had. Perhaps they were just planning an overnight stay on the mountain and then back to their home states and their jobs. While some mountain recreational areas require people to sign in and list their supplies, apparently Mt. Hood does not have that requirement.

Had the three of them planned this trip for many weeks? Did they work it around some vacation time? Did they have their plane tickets in advance? Did they fly in, rent a car and head for Mt. Hood without recognizing that a bad storm was on the way? Were they so eager to climb this mountain and return to their families safely, they forgot a few of the basics? Although it has been reported the MLUs may not be any more reliable than a cell phone under certain conditions, a great deal of talk has been about them neglecting to have one or two. Mt. Hood may be one of the easiest mountains to climb in the world but it still can be unrelenting when the weather turns bad and that can happen very rapidly. The snow can begin to fall and soon there is a whiteout and climbers are lost. Is it possible that east coast climbers are laughed at if they return to tell their friends they climbed Mt. Hood with the help of a MLU? Maybe that climb wouldn’t count. Did the testosterone factor perhaps enter into the equation?

Forty-year old Bobby Unser, the champion race- car driver, winner of a number of Indianapolis 500s and a place in the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame and a friend took off on snowmobiles one sunny, December 1996 winter day in the Rockies. Mechanical problems developed with the snowmobiles. Unser’s compass told him they were about 15 miles from civilization but dusk and a blinding whiteout of gale-driven snow was quickly causing landmarks to disappear.

Unser was the first man to qualify for a race at speeds over 200 mph and now the most important race of his life depended on averaging just one mile an hour as they struggled down steep cliffs, through a maze of narrow canyons. They finally built a snow cave and hunkered down. The next morning they trekked through a snowy pasture and found a deserted barn that fortunately had a small electric heater and a working telephone. Search and rescue professionals estimated they had gone through almost 20 miles of some of the wildest country in the Colorado Rockies. They were treated for hypothermia and severe dehydration. They were near the end of their endurance when they reached safety. In an ironic aftermath, a federal judge later fined Unser $75 for snowmobiling in a wilderness area. Outraged, Unser appealed. (Source: Jan. 1998 Reader’s Digest)

We have to be licensed to drive a vehicle and we must wear our seatbelts or get ticketed. Motorcyclists must be licensed and helmets are recommended for adults and required for young folks. Scuba divers must be certified. Children riding bicycles and kayakers as well as for other sports must wear helmets. The Coast Guard requires commercial fishermen to have some type of device on their boats that send a signal to a satellite in case they get into trouble. Ferry and cruise operators and even people who own boats and only take them for a spin on a calm river or lake have numerous requirements. White water rafters are required to wear life jackets. You would think if retail businesses selling liquor are required to post signs informing the public of affects of alcohol on pregnant women that certain signs could be placed on roads leading to these mountains that say, “climb at your own risk” but I’m sure there would always be those special people willing to lay down their lives to save the “risk takers” if they got in trouble.

A father can be charged with “neglect” if his son is injured on a bicycle without a helmet but this same father can take his son mountain climbing with no restrictions. There is no law requiring mountain climbers to take a MLU with them. The Oregon legislature – now controlled by the Democrats since the November election and with a Democrat governor, will probably introduce lots of bills to make mountain climbing safer when it convenes in January; however, the Oregonian newspaper editorial board said recently this Mt. Hood drama is not reason to try to prohibit access or require climbing insurance or pass new laws or rules.

The paper claims such laws would be costly and impossible to enforce. It claims ten thousand people a year climb Mt. Hood or hike its upper glaciers. (I’m wondering how they arrive at that figure if there is no “sign-in” requirement.) The article claims in the Alps where climbing insurance is required, the coverage has led to a false sense of security among climbers – and a substantial increase in the number and severity of accidents. Making payment for rescue explicit has encouraged more risky behavior.

I was always under the impression that lost climbers could eat snow to keep them from becoming dehydrated but I’m learning from some experts lots of calories are needed to turn that snow into the water our bodies need. So even water is essential and lots of

Nutritional food. That is apparently what kept the three teenagers 31 years ago alive for 13 days.

While the cost to Oregon taxpayers may be in the thousands it should be noted that most military aircraft use these experiences as training missions. The aircraft is continually maintained and the pilots are already on the payroll. Two unmanned drones were also launched but grounded due to wind. A Nevada Air National Guard C-130 equipped with heat-sensing devices flew over the mountain initially but had to turn back after 15 minutes due to severe turbulence. An Army Chinook helicopter from Fort Lewis, Washington arrived to assist.

But who pays? It’s a sticky question. It is usually the “risk takers” in extreme sports such as rock climbing, winter mountaineering, skiing out of bounds that require rescuing. But don’t insurance companies charge a higher premium if these types buy life insurance? Or do they believe they are immortal requiring no life insurance?

Over and above the rescue effort costs, there is the cost to Social Security that Kelly’s children under 18 will be receiving. Even if his wife should remarry, unless her new husband adopted the children, which is highly unlikely, the children will get a monthly check. A widow lady near me said she received $900 a month for each of her four girls under 18 when her husband died. The amount is determined from the salary of the deceased spouse and whether the widow works or not. If a stay-at-home mother, who never worked and therefore never paid into Social Security, passed away, her husband would probably receive nothing.

Frank James said Kelly felt closest to God when he was on the mountain. I’ve heard it said there are no atheists in foxholes and I suppose that could apply to mountains too.

Did Kelly die doing what he loved? Has the fate of his two friends ended up the same way? But what about the responsibility to the families left behind due to their carelessness? It is indeed an unfortunate situation. Oregon is truly a “blue” state.

We’re blue because of the death of James Lim and Kelly James within about a two-week time span separated by about 300 miles. While there is never a good time to have to plan a funeral for our family members, it is especially difficult just before the Christmas holidays.

It all boils down to personal responsibility. The government has taken over so many areas of our lives these past forty years, is it possible we just figure Big Brother will always be there to bail us out of treacherous situations? But beware. An Ann Landers column dated 8/5/1988 told how Wisconsin senators approved a measure letting visually challenged (they called it blind in 1988) people hunt deer providing a sighted person accompanied them. The vote was 27 to 6. But what if the sighted person was V.P. Dick Cheney? Yes, it all boils down to common sense.

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The unknown author of an “Obituary to Common Sense” found on the internet said, “I’m beginning to fear common sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility and his son, Reason and not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.” And as I noted in my article about the Lims, my fear is that far too many young people are learning to depend too much on technology and forgetting about common sense or that little voice down deep inside that says, “STOP, THIS COULD BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR WELL BEING.”

© 2006 Betty Freauf - All Rights Reserved

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Betty is a former Oregon Republican party activist having served as state party secretary, county chairman, 5th congressional vice chairman and then elected chairman, and a precinct worker for many years but Betty gave up on the two-party system in 2004 and joined the Constitutional Party.

Betty is a researcher specializing in education, a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to www.NewsWithViews.com
 
E-Mail:
bettyboot@wvi.com


 

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Frank James said Kelly felt closest to God when he was on the mountain. I’ve heard it said there are no atheists in foxholes and I suppose that could apply to mountains too.