June 29, 2005
Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler took to the skies on Friday morning to locate the body of a mountain climber who had fallen to his death.
Wampler manned the search plane after being notified about the accident by two climbers ascending from the summit near Cooper Spur. They had witnessed the 1,200 foot tumble taken by Todd Engelhardt, 34, of Seattle, Wash., from the northeast face of the mountain.
“It’s really steep in that area and if you can’t arrest yourself during a fall it’s pretty much unsurviveable because of all the rocks that you’re going to encounter,” said Wampler.
The sheriff directed paramedics from the Salem base of the Oregon Air National Guard to the remote area near the Newton-Clark Glacier where Engelhardt lay motionless. The two medics were lowered to the scene from Blackhawk helicopters. Although Wampler suspected that Engelhardt had died in the rough fall, he wanted the fatality confirmed before asking the Crag Rats, Hood River’s volunteer search team, to tackle the steep slopes. When Engelhardt’s death was verified, the Guard recovered his body and flew it to the Mt. Hood Meadows parking lot for transport to Anderson’s Tribute Center in Hood River.
Wampler said Engelhardt took on the almost vertical terrain shortly after dawn on June 24. The exact cause of his fall is not known, but the sheriff said it illustrates the safety benefit of climbing as a team. That way, he said one person can keep an eye on the other and possibly prevent an accident.
“It’s never recommended to climb solo, it’s just best to have two people anchoring each other as a precautionary measure,” said Wampler.
He said the area where Engelhardt died has been the scene of numerous fatalities over the years. Within the last five years, Wampler can recount the death of a snowboarder who decided to challenge the craggy terrain, a couple who fell while training for a climb on Mt. McKinley in Alaska, and a young girl who lost her footing along a rugged trail. The wilderness also appears to have claimed the lives of two hikers, who set out for scenic excursions and were never seen again.
“Every year we have a fatality on the north face of Mt. Hood and people just need to be really, really careful up there,” said Wampler.
He said as the summer months warm up the temperatures at high elevations, climbers can experience an added danger from slushy and slippery snow during the afternoon. But sometimes, as in the case of Engelhardt, all conditions appear to be good — and still an accident happens.
“We don’t know why he fell, whether he slipped or encountered a rock slide, but it was a tragedy,” said Wampler.