Knowing her daughter was hurt and alone on Mount Washington late Oct. 11, Leslie Ford went through the Sunday night without a moment of rest.
“That was not a night for sleep,” Ford, 61, of Portland, said Friday.
Climbing alone, Sarah Ford, 20, of Bend, had fallen. Nearly 12 hours later she was safe, after being lifted off the mountain by an Oregon Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopter.
Sarah Ford’s rescue came just over two weeks after the rescue of Gordon Kenyon, 45, of Salem, off North Sister. He was also climbing alone and was also pulled out of danger by a Black Hawk. Both were fortunate enough to have cell service to put out their calls for help.
Sarah Ford started her climb at 1 p.m. Oct. 11 and had topped Mount Washington, a 7,795-foot volcano in the Cascades, in time to see the 6:30 p.m. sunset from the summit.
She was rappelling down less than 100 feet from the mountaintop when a falling rock hit her in the head, said Joe Larsen, search and rescue coordinator for the Linn County Sheriff’s Office in Albany.
Ford wore a helmet, but being hit by the rock caused her to release her break hand from her rope and she dropped 15 feet, hurting her left knee, losing her headlamp and briefly losing consciousness.
Once she came to, Ford was able to work her way down the northwest ridge of the mountain, into the trees at about 6,200 feet, Larsen said.
Having covered three-quarters of a mile she couldn’t walk any farther. She called her mom and then 911 around 11:23 p.m.
“Her phone was at 1 percent when she called (911),” Larsen said.
After gathering information about her daughter’s location and predicament, and knowing that her daughter’s cellphone was nearly out of juice, Leslie Ford had told Sarah Ford to call for help.
While 911 operators were able to capture information about Sarah Ford’s location on the mountain from her cellphone, calls back to her throughout the night went unanswered with the phone dead, according to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. Along with deputies, 14 members of the sheriff’s office’s search and rescue team, seven members of the volunteer Corvallis Mountain Rescue Unit and three members of the sheriff’s posse searched for Ford, finding her at 6:49 a.m. Oct. 12.
Shortly before noon that day, a Black Hawk hoisted Ford up. She was taken to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield. She has since been treated and released, with her mom saying she’s OK.
“She’s going to be on crutches for a while,” Leslie Ford said.
Her daughter was no stranger to the outdoors, being a wildland firefighter, snowboarder and whitewater river guide. She’s also an emergency medical technician and an experienced climber, having climbed for four or five years.
Also an experienced climber, Kenyon, the man who fell on North Sister on Sept. 25 said he had made a habit out of climbing alone. He started mountain climbing around 1990. While he said he prefers to go with someone else, it can be hard to find “people who are like-minded with the same schedule as you.”
Kenyon came close but did not reach North Sister’s 10,085-foot summit due to icy conditions. He was trying to skirt around the base of a rock pinnacle known as the Camel’s Hump when his feet slipped out from under him and he dislocated his left shoulder. After sliding about 50 feet down the mountain, he was able to stop his fall shortly before a cliff. Hurt and stuck, he first texted his wife, potentially to say goodbye to her and their five children, he said, and then called 911.
Still nursing his sore shoulder, Kenyon said Friday that since his fall he has met with search and rescue teams and mountaineering clubs. He is thinking about volunteering to help with rescues and is looking for climbing partners.
“I’ve kind of learned my lesson,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll climb alone anymore.”
Search and rescue officials do not recommend people climb alone, said Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley. “When you climb alone it just enhances the risk,” he said.
Climbing partners can help each other after falls, go for help and share the burden of carrying safety gear.
Rescuers prefer people climb at least in pairs, said Todd Shechter, mission coordinator for Corvallis Mountain Rescue. If someone does climb alone, he suggested the climber share his or her planned route and when he or she expects to be back with someone and have that person call for help if he or she does not return on time.
Climbers should also be sure to carry the 10 essentials, including extra clothing, emergency shelter and a compass, said Lt. Bryan Husband, search and rescue coordinator for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. Even if they are not planning on it, they should be ready to spend the night outside, like Sarah Ford had to on Mount Washington in below-freezing temperatures.
Husband and Shechter recommended solo climbers carry satellite messengers, which can send out a request for help even in an area without cell coverage.
He said Sarah Ford was lucky to be in place with cell service and to have just enough battery power to make her call to 911.
“If that had been zero percent, this would have been a different story,” Shechter said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7812, firstname.lastname@example.org