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South Sister hiker falls near summit

Rescuers fly fallen South Sister hiker to hospital
Bend man fell 10-20 feet about 300 feet from summit
By KTVZ.COM news sources
July 18, 2013

A hiker descending from the summit of South Sister fell 10 to 20 feet and was briefly knocked unconscious Wednesday, prompting a rescue effort in which an AirLink helicopter flew Deschutes County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue medics to the scene, then took the hiker to the hospital.

Deputies were dispatched around noon to the report of a climber who fell while hiking the South Sister trail, about 300 feet below the summit, said Lt. Scott Shelton, search and rescue coordinator.

Oliver Austin, 33, fell 10 to 20 feet as he and hiking partner Lindsey Brammer, also of Bend, were returning from the summit of the 10,358-foot peak, a popular climbing spot in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Shelton said the caller advised that a fellow hiker had been knocked unconscious for a brief period and sustained other minor head injuries.

Fifteen SAR volunteers and two sheriff’s deputies assisted in the rescue, as a team of three medically trained members were flown to the mountain’s summit, made contact with the hiking party and began a medical assessment and stabilizing the patient, Shelton said.

A member of the hiking party and several other hikers in the area helped SAR team members place Austin in a litter and move him to the landing zone on the summit, Shelton said.

Meanwhile, a second team of 11 search and rescue members prepared on the climbers trail near Devils Lake, in case the air operation to rescue the hiker could not be completed, he said.

"We expect four hours to hike to his location, and twice that to get down. So it could be 12 hours," said volunteer SAR Manager Paul Dickman.

Around 2:10 p.m., the helicopter returned to the summit and picked up the hiker for the flight to St. Charles-Bend with what Shelton called non-life-threatening injuries. A nursing supervisor said he was treated and released.

While the ground team returned to Bend, the three who treated the hiker near the summit came down the trail and were expected to return in the early evening.

Shelton said the SAR team wanted to remind backcountry enthusiasts to travel prepared and plan for the unexpected.

The standard route up the South Ridge of the peak is a long, steep, non-technical hike that can be easily completed in a day by reasonably fit hikers. Popular starting points are the Green Lakes or Devil's Lake trailheads.
Copyright 2013 KTVZ. All rights reserved



What can be learned from this interesting incident?

We have been unable to talk to the injured climber or his companions. Federal HIPPA privacy laws prevent medical personnel, including SAR Volunteer Units, from providing contact information for patients. If Oliver Austin will contact us, we will correct any inaccuracies in our analysis. This is not a 'could-a, would-a, should-a exercise', but a traditional effort to help folks learn valuable lessons from the experiences of other climbers.

The standard 12 mile round-trip south side "Climbers Way", 5,000 feet to and from the summit of South Sister from Devils Lake is a Class 1-2 adventure route that joins the east side climbers trail up and down the last 1,000 feet of elevation gain to above 10,000 feet. The friable volcanic rocks are covered with small gravel of scree, and slips and falls will claim the tired, hasty, uninformed, unwary and careless.

The upper trail follows along the top of the west lateral moraine of Lewis Glacier, a remnant of the Ice Age. (It may tempt the uninformed to glissade what appears to be a snow field, but it is mortally dangerous.  A spring snow field often last through September, covering the dangerous crevassed surface of the Glacier. Any unknown snow field should be avoided by a climber without a helmet, ice axe and the skills to slow and stop a slide at 30 mph..

When a leg is injured, there is a problem. From the summit of South Sister, it can take an agonizing ten hours to hobble down to the trail head and the rig. If it is Summer, water and bonking may become a serious problem. If it is Fall or Winter, water, bonking and hypothermia can create a life threatening situation. But if a head injury is involved, immediate helicopter evacuation may be required.

Oliver Austin, fortunately was transported to hospital care very quickly, following a simple cell phone call to 911 from a fellow hiker who was "properly Prepared for the unexpected". Fortunately, a helicopter LZ was available a very short distance away, on the very large level caldera of this old volcano.

It may be vital to call for Rescue. How can you communicate? Just ten years ago, you had to get some one to descend to the trail head and drive back to a pay phone! Until recently, cell phones were not Essential to backcountry travel. Oliver Austen's hiking companion had a clear cell phone connection to the cell towers on the nearby summit of Mt. Bachelor. (We like to think that Austen had carried his ordinary cell phone as well.)


Times have changed!

Ordinary cell phone coverage has improved, year by year, to the time of this writing in 2013 - see below for "The Rest of the Story". Check your own cell coverage in your favorite backcountry areas. Much of the high desert and the Three Sisters Wilderness is covered by Verizon using CDMA code. The cell phones from other (urban) providers are not able to "see" CDMA towers and will not connect.

Cell communication equipment used by many Providers is located on the top of Mt. Bachelor. If you can see the summit, you should have good cell phone communications. If you are in a hollow or behind a ridge, just move a few feet! However, without contact with other towers, a geographic location can not be triangulated for 911 use and an accurate location can not be fixed. (In this example, the "summit of South Sister' was as good as a UTM geographic location.

Each person in a group should carry their own simple personal cell phone.

The rest of the story

Deschutes County Sheriffs Search and Rescue Volunteer Coordinator Al Hornish, a 12 year veteran of DCSAR, stated the following in an interview published on January 26, 2012 in the Bend Oregon Source Weekly: "We have grown a lot over the past decade. The nature of missions has changed as well." "There are more Rescues and less Searches, mostly because of the better technology available." Read More. --Robert Speik, January 26, 2012.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010, or nearly four months since my fall off Mount Temple. After so much time, there is much to dwell on. The negatives: the pain of so many fractures, the sleeplessness, the drugs and the messed up things they do to you. It’s easy to get stuck in the negative; yet some part of me is drawn there by some morbid fascination.

How big am I then? Not very. I made a mistake, a pretty small mistake. Or more honestly, I made a series of pretty small mistakes. I almost died for these transgressions. I would have died if it had not been for a cell phone and the chain of events it was able to put into motion. (I’ve owned a cell phone for barely six years.) I might not have died that very day, March 25, 2010, but from where we were, we were a long, long way from the medical care my injuries demanded: a trained trauma surgeon in an Emergency Room. Perhaps I would have lasted one night. Maybe not. It changes my perspective about what a day means. Carpe diem no longer seems some frat-boy cry to party. Today, means everything. --Steve House, Wednesday, July 7, 2010,


Here are some Basic suggestions for each backcountry traveler

1. Practice the Four Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler. They work!  Basic Responsibilities

2. Carry the new Ten Essential Systems, sized for the forecast weather and the adventure in a light day pack. This includes a map, compass and GPS and the skills to use them. In the winter, this includes enough extra insulation and waterproof clothing to keep you dry and warm if you become stranded. In snow, you must have a shovel and insulating pad and the skills to make a shelter in the snow to avoid hypothermia and frost bite damage. It works!  Ten Essential Systems

3. Carry your fully charged ordinary digital cell phone(s) and periodically check where it can communicate with any cell towers to assist authorities in triangulating your position from cell tower pings. (Most cell providers do not use internal cell phone GPS radio signals to locate customers under FCC E911 regulations - they use cell tower triangulation).

Note that cold disables batteries. Use Lithium batteries all year around. If the weather is cold, carry the cell phone in a pants pocket near the femoral artery. Report your UTM NAD27 coordinates from your quad topo maps and you GPS, your condition, the conditions where you are and discuss your plans with SAR.  Ordinary Cell Phones   If you are adventurous and often may be out of cell tower range, carry a $100.00 SPOT.  SPOT-2 Satellite Messenger

4. Always stay found on your topo map and be aware of major land features. If visibility starts to wane, reconfirm your bearings with your map, compass and GPS and quickly return to a known location. A GPS is the only practical way for a trained individual to navigate in a whiteout or blowing snow.  Lost Mt Hood Climbers


A suggested minimum standard news advisory for all backcountry travelers!

"We would like to take this opportunity to ask our visitors to the backcountry of Oregon to Plan for the unexpected. Each person should dress for the forecast weather and take minimum extra clothing to provide protection from a drop in temperature and possible rain or snow storm or an unexpected cold wet night out. Each person should carry high carbohydrate snacks, two quarts of water or Gatorade, a topo map and declination adjusted base plate compass and an optional inexpensive GPS (and the skills to use them together). Each person who has a cell phone should carry their ordinary charged cell phone (from a service provider that has the best local backcountry coverage). An inexpensive SPOT-2 GPS Satellite Communicator is a good additional option for some. Each person should carry their selected items from the new 'Ten Essentials Systems' in a day pack sized for the individual, the trip, the season and the forecast weather."

"Visitors are reminded to tell a Responsible Person where they are going, where they plan to park, when they will be back and to make sure that person understands that they are relied upon to call 911 at a certain time if the backcountry traveler has not returned. Call 911 as soon as you become lost or stranded. You will not be charged. Do not try to find your way until you are benighted, exhausted, or worse yet - wet. Your ordinary cell phone call to 911 can take the 'Search' out of Search and Rescue."



"To provide information and instruction about world-wide basic to advanced alpine mountain climbing safety skills and gear, on and off trail hiking, scrambling and light and fast Leave No Trace backpacking techniques based on the foundation of an appreciation for the Stewardship of the Land, all illustrated through photographs and accounts of actual shared mountaineering adventures."

TraditionalMountaineering is founded on the premise that "He who knows naught, knows not that he knows naught", that exploring the hills and summitting peaks have dangers that are hidden to the un-informed and that these inherent risks can be in part, identified and mitigated by mentoring: information, training, wonderful gear, and knowledge gained through the experiences of others.

The value of TraditionalMountaineering to our Friends and Subscribers is the selectivity of the information we provide, and its relevance to introducing folks to informed hiking on the trail, exploring off the trail, mountain travel and Leave-no-Trace light-weight bivy and backpacking, technical travel over steep snow, rock and ice, technical glacier travel and a little technical rock climbing on the way to the summit. Whatever your capabilities and interests, there is a place for everyone in traditional alpine mountaineering.




Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can, only in part, be mitigated


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 Carboration and Hydration
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  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

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  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
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  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit   
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BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
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OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
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A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
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Cooking the "navigation noodle"