It took 18 climbers and 17 hours of hard, dangerous labor, but the body of Robert J. Cormier has been retrieved from the north face of Mount Hood.
Cormier, 57, a Catholic priest from Jersey City, N.J., died the morning of May 13 after falling approximately 700 feet from the summit of Mount Hood. The Hood River County Sheriff’s Office located his body via plane later that day, with assistance from the Oregon National Guard, but it was determined that conditions were too dangerous to recover Cormier’s body, which had come to rest right at the edge of a crevasse approximately 10,500 feet up on the mountain’s north face.
Pete Hughes, public information officer for HRCSO, said warm temperatures increased the likelihood of loose snow and rock fall and the recovery could not be attempted until the weather cooperated with cooler temperatures. Hughes said the Crag Rats, a local mountain rescue organization, kept tabs on the weather up on the mountain throughout the weekend, which included some snow on Sunday.
The cooler temperatures and favorable winds forecast for Wednesday gave an opportunity for members of the Crag Rats and Portland Mountain Rescue to attempt a recovery effort, which they began at 1 a.m. HRCSO coordinated the operation while one team of climbers ascended from the south, leaving from Timberline Lodge, while another team ascended from the north, leaving from Cloud Cap Inn.
When crews arrived at the scene, Cormier’s body had gone from resting at the crevasse’s edge to falling into the crevasse, 50 feet below the surface of the ice of the upper headwall of Eliot Glacier. Hughes said the crews “scrambled to get more rope” in order to reach Cormier, and that it took them three hours to pull Cormier out of the crevasse, which was complicated by “near-vertical terrain.”
While the weather cooperated in the morning, conditions worsened throughout the day. Temperatures rose, rock fall increased, and Hughes said the crews “almost called it due to wind,” and suspended the recovery effort.
However, they decided to push on, traversing across the glacier with Cormier’s body, navigating over crevasses until they reached safe ground. From there, Reserve Deputy Grant Porter used his own personal helicopter — Hughes explained Porter has a business where he uses the helicopter to blow rainwater off cherry trees to prevent split fruit — to lift the body of Cormier to Cloud Cap Inn. Hughes said by the time climbers returned, it was nearly 7 p.m.
Cormier’s body was taken to Anderson’s Tribute Center in Hood River and Hughes said a relative of Cormier’s would be coming out and flying back with his body to the East Coast.
“We are happy to help bring closure to the family and friends of Robert Cormier,” Hughes said in an official statement. “The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank all who participated in the search and recovery operations, including members of the Crag Rats and Portland Mountain Rescue.”