A professional mountain guide at Oregon's Mount Hood, where seven high school students and two teachers died in a storm last week, said yesterday that the mountaineer hired to accompany the group was not registered as a guide.
Mike Volk, president of Timberline Mountain Guides, which regularly takes climbers up the 11,245-foot peak, said neither the group from Oregon Episcopal School in Portland nor its guide, Ralph Summers, had the required Forest Service permit for the ascent.
Summers, who worked winters on Mount Hood as a ski instructor and summers for Outward Bound as a mountaineering instructor for troubled teen-agers, was one of four people to survive the outing. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Pacific Crest Outward Bound director Victor Walsh, a veteran mountaineer, said Summers, 30, is a trained mountain instructor with 11 years' experience in the Northwest. He said Summers' training to qualify as an Outward Bound instructor was far more stringent than state or federal requirements.
Mariann Koop, director of public relations for the school, said that Summers was hired only to assist in the ascent and that the trip leader was the Rev. Thomas Goman, a teacher who had climbed Mount Hood 18 times. Goman died on the mountain.
Koop said she did know whether a permit had been sought or received.
The Forest Service requires commercial guides working on Mount Hood to obtain a use permit, according to local ranger Cecil Dewing. He said guides or organizations planning a hike must pay a fee and show that they follow state licensing requirements and have liability insurance.
Dewing and Ranger Chuck Smay said there is no record of a permit for Summers or the school for the climb that began before dawn May 12. The state Marine Board, which licenses outdoor guides in Oregon, said it had no record that Summers had registered as a guide.
The Oregon Episcopal School's four-year wilderness program, Basecamp, sponsors frequent climbs of Mount Hood. Its advanced climbing team most recently made the ascent in January.
Volk said that on May 11 -- the day before the school group left Timberline Lodge, about halfway up the mountain, at 2:30 a.m. for the all-day climb -- he canceled a guided trip because of bad weather.
While the storms later abated, Volk said forecasts called for another severe storm on the evening of May 12. It was that storm that trapped the group, which turned back shortly before reaching the mountain's summit, and forced the climbers to dig a snow cave, where most of them died.
Volk also said his organization's standard for Mount Hood ascents is one guide for every four climbers, while Summers and Goman initially led 16, five of whom turned back early in the climb.
Accompanied by the oldest student climber, Summers left the group early Tuesday to seek help, reaching Mount Hood Meadows Ski Lodge four hours later. On Wednesday rescuers found three dead climbers, and the next day they located the snow cave. Six of the eight climbers in it were dead; the legs of one of the two survivors later were amputated below the knee.
Summers has said that the group stopped when one student showed signs of hypothermia, becoming disoriented and lethargic.
Ian Wade, national safety director for Outward Bound, said he hoped that a board of inquiry could be convened to determine the facts, although there is no protocol in the mountaineering community for such an inquiry. "I've heard some details, but it's by no means all I want to know," Wade said.
Several mountaineers agreed that the tragedy is likely to resurrect the longstanding controversy over whether guides should be certified by national or state agencies, as in Europe and Canada.
"The problem in the U.S. is that there's no standardized national examination system at all," said Andy Kauffman, vice president of the American Alpine Club.
Other mountaineers suggested that national standards and examinations for guides would not work in the United States because the terrain is so diverse.
The American Professional Mountain Guides Association is formulating internal guide-certification plans and a scheme to apply themnationwide. "We started our program to forestall any government program," president Doug Robinson said, "because we know what we're doing a lot better than some third-level bureaucrat in Washington."