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Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood

Press Release from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

November 28th, 2004 8:11 PM

On Monday, November 22, 2004 Sylvia Hillebrand set out alone on a hike from a trailhead near the Trillium Lake snow park area. Hillebrand was wearing a winter coat and tennis shoes; she was not dressed appropriately for the winter weather conditions.

On Tuesday Hillebrand became very cold, wet and tired. She sat down near Devil's Peak, about 9 miles south of HWY 26.

Today, two hikers located Hillebrand and saw that she was conscious and breathing, but she was cold and not moving. Hillebrand was seated in the same place she originally sat down to rest.

The two hikers telephoned the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office who activated the Search and Rescue team. The team, comprised of 2 members from the AMR reach and treat team, 2 members from the Clackamas County Search and Rescue team and the two hikers who located her, hiked back to Ms. Hillebrand's location where they provided her with basic medical care, placed her on a sled and brought her to safety. An ambulance transported Hillebrand to a local hospital where she was treated for frostbite and exposure to her feet and frostbite to her hands.

Hillebrand spend six nights on Mt. Hood, five of them in the same place without moving. There was approximately five inches of snow on the ground and temperatures were, at times, in the teens where Hillebrand was located.

Contact Info: Joel R. Manley
Public Information Officer
Clackamas County Sheriff's Office



KATU 2 News - Portland, Oregon
November 28, 2004
Hiker rescued on Mount Hood, suffers frostbite

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. - Crews rescued a disoriented, frostbitten hiker who got stuck on Mount Hood, authorities said.

Sylvia Hillebrand, 58, was in serious condition Sunday at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital. Her hands and feet were frostbitten, officials said.

Another hiker discovered Hillebrand sitting on a trail, unable to walk. The hiker called for help and rescuers transported Hillebrand down the mountain on a sled.

"She'd been up hiking and became disoriented and basically sat down where she was at," said Sgt. Nick Watt of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. "She figured she
had been up there five days."

Watt said Hillebrand had blankets, but endured the freezing temperatures in tennis shoes, sweats and a parka.

Authorities had not received a report that she was missing.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.



The Oregonian
Monday, November 29, 2004
Four hikers discover Sylvia Hillebrand, 57, of Portland with frostbite and on the verge of freezing to death
Woman survives six nights on trail in Mt. Hood forest

A Southeast Portland woman survived six nights in frigid temperatures on a Mount Hood National Forest trail before being rescued Sunday.

Four hikers who discovered Sylvia Hillebrand, 57, on the trail near Trillium Lake almost certainly saved her life, said Sgt. Nick Watt, Clackamas County search and rescue coordinator.

"She is awfully lucky to be alive," he said.

Hillebrand went hiking Monday, apparently became disoriented and sat down on the trail, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. She was wearing tennis shoes, sweats and a parka. She also had some blankets. But she had no camping gear and no extra clothes.

On Tuesday, she became very cold, wet and tired, the sheriff's office said. She sat down near Devil's Peak, about nine miles south of U.S. 26.

The trail is busy with hikers in good summer weather, and many cross country skiers soon will be using it. But apparently, no one passed Hillebrand for days. No one had reported her missing.

About 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the hikers discovered her on their way to Devil's Peak lookout tower, where they planned to spend the night.

Ryan Wolse, 23, of Troutdale, Jason Hougak, 24, and his wife, Rochelle, 21, of Eagle Creek and Nicki Smith of Clackamas saw her sitting on the trail and asked whether she needed anything. She replied that she was on "a journey" and asked for some water, Wolse and Hougak said.

They asked whether she knew her phone number or had family and how she got to the trail. Satisfied that she seemed lucid, the group continued hiking.

Sunday morning, on their return, they passed Hillebrand sitting in the same spot, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by empty juice bottles. About 5 inches of snow had fallen. Her fingers were white with frostbite, Hougak said.

Not wanting to move her without help, they hiked about 11/2 miles to the trail head and called 9-1-1 on a cell phone.

County rescuers and American Medical Response's Reach and Treat Team quickly reached Hillebrand, who could not walk, and brought her to the trail head.

Rescuers said she was suffering from exposure and her body temperature had dropped within a few degrees of freezing to death. Hillebrand was reported in serious condition Sunday night at OHSU Hospital.

One of Hillebrand's neighbors said the slim, petite woman who smokes would visit the woods every day. "She said she was communing with nature," Mary Combs said. "It was a spiritual thing. She was very private."

Combs said cold weather didn't seem to bother Hillebrand, who would wear shorts and sandals on chilly days, and tennis shoes when temperatures plunged.

On Sunday night, Wolse and Hougak relived their astonishment that Hillebrand had survived so long in such unforgiving weather. The childhood buddies had almost left for their hike Friday night. And on Saturday, they decided against taking a different trail.

"If we hadn't taken that trail, she could still be there," Hougak said. "When I looked in her eyes, deep down I could see she was so glad we were there."

Copyright 2004 by The Oregonian,
from Search ONE K-9 Detection, INC.

######### Channel 6 - Portland Oregon
November 29, 2004
Woman Found Nearly Frozen To Death On Mt. Hood
Patient Could Lose Fingers, Feet

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- A woman is in serious condition after spending several nights alone on Mount Hood.
A group of hikers found 58-year-old Sylvia Hillebrand over the weekend near Devil's Peak.

They first spotted Hillebrand when they were hiking up the mountain, but she reportedly refused their help. On their way down the next day, she was still there, sitting on the trail and unable to walk.

"Her clothes were frozen on her. Jason picked up her hand and her fingertips down to her knuckles were white," hiker Ryan Wolfe told KOIN News 6.

The group called 911, and rescuers brought her off the trail.

Clackamas County sheriff's deputies say Hillebrand was wearing tennis shoes and light clothing. She was extremely disoriented and her core temperature was just 90 degrees.

Doctors at Oregon Health and Science University say they may have to amputate her feet and some of her fingers. Hillebrand will also undergo a psychological examination.

Frostbite occurs when skin freezes after exposure to cold temperatures. Treatment involves slowly heating the skin with warm water.

If frostbite goes beyond the skin to underlying tissues and blood vessels, damage becomes permanent and amputation is possible. Frostbite most often happens in the fingers, toes, ears and nose.

Copyright 2004 by, Channel 6 - Portland Oregon



TraditionalMountaineering Analysis:
Everyone should become familiar with the advancing stages of Hypothermia. Experience tells us that the injured person is the one who is least able to assess his or her condition - they will state confidently, "I'm OK, I'm, OK". Companions or fellow mountain travelers must follow their own observations.

If you are not lost. it is best to keep moving and generating heat rather than to wait in one place until found. If you know where you need to go to car or camp, it is better to keep moving, even if painfully injured. There are many extreme examples of self rescue in traditional mountaineering literature.

If you are truly lost, it is better to to mark your location for rescuers and stay in one place for hours or days until found.

Surely, you have followed the Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler so that someone will be looking for you. Surely you are not wearing cotton, but are dressed for the forecast weather. Surely you have the Ten Essentials so that you can protect yourself from seasonal weather changes and can keep hydrating and eating the right fuel to maintain your ability to keep using your large muscle groups to generate heat. Surely you will protect and exercise your fingers and toes relentlessly.

Sadly, there are many extreme examples of folks who just sat down to rest or sought shelter in a hole in the snow ("a snow cave") losing feet and hands and lives.
See below. Surely, we can learn from the mistakes of others. --Webmeister Speik


Warning: Traditional Mountaineering is an inherently dangerous sport!





Read more . . .
Hypothermia  four pdf pages   

  About Alpine Mountaineering: 
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader 
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities 
  The Ten Essentials

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