the beautiful monster


So, as I'm sure many of you have heard already, recently three very experienced climbers went missing last Friday when they attempted to climb Oregon's infamous Mt. Hood. At 1am when they left their truck in the Timberline Parking lot and filled out their climb report, conditions were good. Conditions were to stay good for most of the day, but then turn nasty as the evening progressed. Ideally, they were not figuring on being out that long. For a 1am departure, you hope to reach summit by 7-8am, and then back down the mountain to their car by 3pm. They had gear they needed, harnesses, helmets, ice axes; though, no emergency beacons and no snow shovels. Their climbing report was sloppy though, they wrote down the wrong names for things and appeared to write info for routes that were on the other side of the Mountain.

The climbers were Luke Gullberg 26, Katie Nolan 29, and Anthony Vietti 24. All of them have climbed mountains together before, Adams, Rainier, Mt. Baker. In fact, Luke Gullberg had already summited Mt. Hood six times prior while Anthony was a member of Olympic Mountain Rescue. I'm sure, in the back of their head.... it was no big thing, easy up - easy down. Granted, they were taking one of the hardest routes up the Mountain... but, these were people who seemingly didn't take the easy route, while climbing or in life.

The other day, searchers found the body of Luke Gullberg near 9,000 ft. at the Reid Glacier. Gear, harness, helmet, etc was scattered all over the slope of the mountain near his body. Apparently included in this gear was a camera containing photos of everyone shortly before "something bad happened". One of the photos shows Gullberg anchored to the snow and the ice of the Reid Headwall, apparently with two snow screws. Seemingly, a rope led from the anchors to his secured harness. Autopsy reports determined that Luke had a long slow fall, but that's not what killed him. In fact, he had minimal cuts scrapes and bruises and it's very likely that he was able to walk and crawl for several hundred yards. Luke died from hypothermia, from exposure.

As I type, Katie and Anthony have not been found yet. In the three days of searching as weather has allowed, each hour that passes makes the chance that they hunkered down in a snow cave and are still alive grow fainter and fainter.

My mind is wrapped around the this story. I am confused and I try, much like everyone else... to figure out what might have happened. What was the "something bad?" Who was it who went first? How high were they? Were they roped together (some of the prior photos show they were)? Was there a fall, a crevasse? How long were they out there? Did they have sufficient gear with them to stay warm or eat in case of emergency? Were they trying to climb light and fast? Why wasn't Luke's backpack on him? Why did he have Katie's water bottle and glove? Did Luke go for help after the two of them ran into problems and built a snow cave? There are so many possibilities and so many scenarios that I gobble up all the latest news about the incident... hoping that there is a better idea of what happened, but alas.... no one knows.

Personally, like many others, I want to know. I want to understand. I want to be prepared. I want to know the details so that I don't make the same mistakes they did. I don't want to be a statistic. It's been a goal of mine since I moved out here to climb the 11,249 ft Mt. Hood - and only inclimate weather has turned me around thus far. Honestly, even considering all the tragedy that has happened on the mountain over the years... it hasn't scared me away..... it only makes me want to understand it more. The mountain is a beast of nature. It can provide for an afternoon of fun as quickly as it can provide for a lifetime of terror. It demands respect and understanding. You never really ever conquer the mountain and if given the opportunity, it can quickly conquer you. And, because it is there, because it is so close and accessible, because it is one of the most beautiful and dangerous things we have ever seen... we are drawn to it.

Another reason this story is so captivating, is that currently, we only know so much about the climbers involved. At first glance of a news story, you see their name, their age, and their home. I identify with one of them. Though our lives may be entirely different, the truth is on paper that Katie Nolan, 29 of Portland Oregon loved climbing mountains and challenging herself. I, Jenn Levo, 29 years old of Portland Oregon, love climbing mountains and challenging myself. I don't know Katie, but it's very possible that our lives crossed paths at some point... at the climbing gym, at an outdoors event. It's hard to say... but I identify with her. She got connected with the two men because she was often going out hiking and climbing and doing it alone. Someone introduced her to one of the other so she had "people" and then they became fast friends with a shared interest in the great outdoors. Most of my friends that I have here in Portland I've found through the same way. Katie could be me, she could also be one of my friends.

In the days since the incident... more news about the life of Katie Nolan has come to surface. She, as well as the two men, were deeply religious people (in fact, I don't know how you can spend time in the outdoors and not believe in God.) Katie apparently worked in Portland for an organization which helped get women off the streets and into jobs and homes. She even went to Africa once to help free women from the slave trade. It appears as if all of them were good people who essentially had their faith and believed in helping others as well as a love and appreciation for the outdoors. (That doesn't mean that good people don't die... good people die every day, but losses are just a little more heartbreaking when the people are young, decent folks with a zest for life rather than cracked out thieves and hoodlums, right?)

In light of everything and the time that has passed since they've gone missing, I don't think this can be considered a rescue mission anymore. Temperatures on the mountain have dipped into the teens with more snow on the way. Avalanche danger is high and the upcoming forecast is not promising. While I'd love to think that they used their ice picks to make a snow cave and the two of them have been huddled in there keeping warm, by day four, it's not likely that they'd still have food or fuel for water. I think it's safe to say any further work is a recovery mission. I can only hope that all of the climbers, in light of the "something bad that happened" were able to be at peace in their final moments. There were out there in the wilds, doing what they loved in a place that they loved and if you ask me, that's a pretty good way to go. I for one, have always longed to go out they way Jack London described death in his tale "To Build a Fire". In this story, the man... left out in harsh winter conditions finally lost to the bitter freezing cold. After painful bouts of shivering, with his limbs losing control and sensation, a feeling of calmness and drowsiness came over him. Much like taking an anesthetic, "the man drowsed off into what seemed to him the most the most comfortable and satisfying sleep he had ever known".

My prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the climbers from last week's incident. I also send out kind thoughts and regards for the others who have lost on the mountain. And, I pray for safe travels and returns to all those who venture forth. Remember, you never really conquer the mountain, you are just spared from it from time to time.

I will close with my personal prayer that I repeat in moments of weakness, danger and uncertainty. It is a variation of Habakkuk 3:17-19 found in the Old Testament, (granted... it's not the exact text, but the meaning is the same and it's just the way it comes out of my mouth): "The Lord, God is my saviour, may he give me the strength of a deer to make it safely over the mountains."

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For a look at the mountain and search and rescue efforts, check out this video shot by a local news station helicopter.

Also, this rages the debate if rescue beacons should be mandated for climbers. I've save my thoughts on that for a later post.

 

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