Friday, December 22, 2006

More info about the Mount Hood climbers

Sometimes, bad things happen to experienced climbers. New information about the three climbers who were lost on Mount Hood recently show they tried to educate themselves before their fateful trip. Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, Brian Hall and Kelly James headed up the North Face of Oregon's Mount Hood and never returned. Here's an AP story about their preparation:

To the climbing enthusiasts who frequent web sites like and, Cooke was known as “fuggedaboudit,” the name clearly a fond nod to his Brooklyn address. In posts on the forums, Cooke described his climb to the summit of Washington’s Mount Rainier from last June, adding at the end a now-bittersweet personal note to Hall and James: “Met a strong pair of climbers from Texas, Brian and Kelly, you two are gentlemen.”

But it is his brief posts on the Hood attempt that have prompted much scrutiny in online mountaineering forums, suggesting that the three climbers — though experienced veterans who among them could claim climbs in the Andes and Alaska — had plenty of questions about their Hood ascent attempt.

On Sept. 17, Cooke began a post on with an apology, writing, “Since I’ve never been there before, pardon what may be stupid questions in advance. I tried to buy the guidebook but it’s out of print.” His post continues with questions about the routes up Hood: about distances from the Cloud Cap Inn, at 6,000 feet, to climbing landmarks on the mountain, about park fees and special permits.

In another post, from November, Cooke asks about distances from a basic shelter at 7,000 feet up the mountain, noting that such an option would, “allow us to get there the day before and get an early start the next day. It also allows us to carry minimal sleeping gear.”

At the news conference, sheriff Wampler said evidence suggests that the three had been “lightly equipped,” adding later, “I think that they knew where they were at, but, you know, at nighttime, not ever being there before, there was some disorientation involved in this.” But he said the three climbers had “the basic knowledge and equipment to get this done in the time periods they had planned on,” until an injury to James’s shoulder, and the onset of bad weather, threw their plans into jeopardy.

As the dramatic search and rescue operation unfolded on the mountain over the past week, much of it televised live and coast-to-coast, mountaineering forums have been deluged by those offering sympathy to the families of the missing climbers, searchers reporting back on conditions on the mountain, and plenty of speculation about what exactly might have happened to the three. A few posters even reported encounters with James, Hall and Cooke, one telling of meeting the three in a Mount Hood warming hut on Thursday, Dec. 7, in a post that suggests that just a day before they were to attempt their climb, the three were still gleaning information about their route.

“They never really said exactly what line they were climbing, but they asked for any beta (information) on the routes,” wrote the poster. “They asked for any info on how to get down onto the Eliot (glacier) since they would be doing it in the dark, asked how safe I thought it was traveling on the glacier, and wanted a guess on how long it would take them to reach the schrund (the crevasse where a glacier pulls away from an icecap) at the base of the (North Face) gullies.”

But the three seemed confident about their trek, the poster continues, writing, “I had the impression the routes were well within their abilities...They seemed like great guys. Offered to fill my water bottle and offered all of us cocoa. Had the cabin fired up and warm and seemed very enthused about their climb.”

It’s not unusual for serious climbers to post questions about their routes, looking for the most current information from other climbers, officials with Portland’s Mazamas mountaineering group and others said. “They had done more than I usually do,” said Benjamin Ruef, co-author of "Rock Climbing Oregon," who said it took him 23 hours to complete the summit attempt on the route chosen by Hall, Cooke and James, after being caught in an early fall blizzard.

Familiarity with the route up Mount Hood might have helped the climbers, Ruef said, but only to a point. “It’s a very difficult route, and a bad time of year to be attempting it,” he said. “They had a window, and when you are at that level, you try to push your limits, and I think that is what they were doing.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Is there any new info on the mt.Hood climbers? I haven't heard anything in a week. Are they still looking for them?