The treacherous, wind-swept conditions on Mount Hood were described as “a bowling alley,” with rocks and sheets of ice tumbling down Oregon’s highest mountain Tuesday.
Several climbers became trapped, authorities said, and one of them was killed — falling as many as 1,000 feet down the mountain in northern Oregon.
“One of the guys slipped,” climber Quinn Talley told the Associated Press. Talley had been making his descent at the time of the accident and witnessed a horrifying scene.
“At first he was just sliding,” he said. “And right before he disappeared, he started cartwheeling.”
The fallen climber, who has not yet been publicly identified, was with several others on Hogsback Trail, near the summit, at the time of his deadly fall, according to the Oregonian.
“This isn’t your backyard hill,” Sgt. Brian Jensen of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said at a news conference, according to CBS affiliate KOIN. “This is a mountain that is deadly.”
Experts say the popular climbing spot can become especially dangerous when the sun starts to melt the snow and ice.
“This is the kind of weather conditions and the time of year where you often get falling ice, falling rocks and problems,” Russell Gubele of Mountain Wave Search and Rescue told the Associated Press.
Authorities received a call at around 10:30 a.m. about a climber who had fallen hundreds of feet down the mountain. About 40 rescuers from Portland Mountain Rescue, Mountain Wave Search and Rescue, Coast Guard Pacific Northwest and 304th Air Force Rescue Squad helped in the rescue — and recovery — the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said.
Describing the falling rocks and ice, a witness said the scene was “like a bowling alley,” Air Force Maj. Chris Bernard told reporters.
Jensen, with the sheriff’s office, said the critically injured climber was airlifted by the Oregon Army National Guard to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Jensen said there were three others in the group — including a woman who became physically unable to move and had to be brought down on a sled pulled by rescuers, 600 feet at a time.
“It was very hard to move under these types of conditions, and she was very brave and very stoic during her evacuation,” Steve Rollins, with Portland Mountain Rescue, told the Associated Press.
The two other climbers made it down without assistance but were “upset” and appeared to be mentally and physically exhausted, Jensen said — “which I think is a normal reaction to an event like today.”
The sheriff’s office said late Tuesday night that the two were speaking with deputies.
A separate group of three climbers made it down safely, authorities said.
Climber Wyatt Peck told the Associated Press that he turned around when he and a fellow climber realized they could not pierce the melting snow with their pickaxes and crampons.
“I saw, like I said, a lot of people were struggling traversing,” the 26-year-old said. “I think they just got to the summit and were so exhausted they didn’t know what to do to get back down — and that’s the hardest part, to get back down.”
He said a climb like that is not worth the potential cost.
“The mountain’s always going to be there,” he said. “Your life’s not worth it.”
This story has been updated.