Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mount Hood: Nature Trumps Technology

The nation awaits the rescue of three stranded climbers on Mount Hood, the most frequently climbed glaciated peak in North America. About 10,000 people every year apply for permits to climb Mount Hood, but most climb in the months of May and June. By late summer, unpredictable glacier movement and frequent storms dramatically increase the risks for climbers.

The three men lost on the mountain started their trip a week ago. The information they left behind indicates that they were embarking on a “light and fast” climb. “Light and fast” means that they were carrying minimal supplies, sacrificing emergency preparedness for speed. They planned to summit the 11,239 foot volcanic peak then descend the gentler slope of the south face to meet friends at Timberline Lodge on Saturday. Kelly James, one of the climbers, used a cell phone to contact his family on Sunday morning, informing them that he was in a snow cave near the summit, and that the other two climbers had gone for help. Since that time, an army of rescuers with an arsenal of high tech equipment has worked tirelessly to find the climbers.

FBI officials, using their expertise in cell phone tracking, believe that Mr. James initiated a call Monday morning at 7:20 a.m. that did not go through. T-Mobile officials think the caller was located between the 10,000 and 11,000-foot elevation on Sunday. Iomax, a wireless and data network security company from Denver, hopes to use their advanced technology to better pinpoint the cell phone location.

The Nevada Air National Guard flew over the peak yesterday in a C-130 equipped with heat-sensing devices. The winter storm raging on the mountain turned them away. Two Army Chinook helicopters from Fort Lewis, Washington await abatement in the wind before they can be used to sweep the area. Aracar, a company from Morrison, Colorado, has provided three one-pound battery operated plastic propeller planes know as drones to aid in the rescue effort. The drones fly 300 to 500 feet above the surface and use heat-sensitive devices, but are also unable to fly because of the winter storms.

Despite the enormous effort, rescuers are limited to searching below the 8500 foot mark because of the winds of the winter storms. Another storm, with predicted wind velocities greater than 100 miles per hour will strike the mountain this afternoon. Weather forecasters say that the storm will be followed by freezing temperatures for another two days. The rescuers remain hopeful that the climbers can be found and brought to safety.

The scenario unfolding on Mount Hood is an analogy for the work we face every day in the emergency department. There is danger inherent in mountain climbing. There is danger inherent in everyday living. Skilled, motivated rescuers can use Herculean effort and the very latest technology to prolong and preserve life. In the end, though, it comes down to man against the mountain.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the lost climbers and the rescue teams as we hope for a Christmas miracle.

Be safe.

No comments: