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Author Topic: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River  (Read 10947 times)
Dale Crockatt
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May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« on: 06/01/09, 07:32 PM »

On May 1st 2009, we were skiing in White River canyon on Mt. Hood at about the 7,000 foot elevation.  The route was one we had skied many times before along the east ridge, down a snow drift on the lee side of a medial moraine.  To the east, a long blowhole forms every year following the drift for maybe 500 feet.  At the top, a near vertical drop into the blowhole mellows into a nice roll that invited me in after a bad section on the ridge.  An easy drop on my left turn, a right turn into the gully and a couple control turns as I anticipated to exit out onto the open area at the base of the ridge and blow hole. 

The light was a little flat.  Maybe I was focused on my friends below.  Maybe I need my eyes checked.  The snow wasn’t bad- I wasn’t expecting any problems.  In the blink of an eye I went from 20mph(?) to zero.  I had thrown my weight back preventing any heal release.  In a fraction of a second I was crushed to the back of my skis, my body thrown forward over a several foot steep bump.  I think I heard crunches, but it didn’t matter.  I looked down at my body and realized I could barely move.  My right leg was flopped over, my ski pointing down the hole, my body pointing the other way.  The first thing I said was “That didn’t work!” before screaming to my friends for help.  I was hurt, bad.  I felt shock and pain overcoming me quickly.  My body hurt from my middle back to my middle femur.

When my friends arrived- some were above, some below- I told them, I was hurt bad, get help fast.  I told them to order the Life Flight helicopter- I didn’t think I could stay conscious.  I was worried about the many complications of femur injury involving damage to the artery.  I knew if I went unconscious I probably would not come back out due to internal injuries.  I was an EMT for ten years and a professional ski patrol, but rarely dealt with trauma at this level.  I could feel and move my toes and ankle, but the excruciating pain told me I had severe problems.  The impact accident was typical to femur injury.  I wanted to make sure it was not compound and checked for blood.  Back pain began to appear, so I could not be moved.  They did their best to stabilize me and remove my skis.  Somebody called for help to the county, but since we were so close to Mt. Hood Meadows the decision was made to ask for Ski Patrol assistance.  I believe it took some explaining, but within minutes decisions were made and rescue was on its way. 

There was no direct access to the location without carrying the sled across a ridge and down into the canyon.  The first Ski Patrol hit some bad snow coming towards me, lost a ski, but stayed on his feet recovering his ski well below.  Two other patrols with the sled were approaching much slower and brought over the backboard.  As they assessed my injuries, I was amazed how clear headed (I thought) I remained, but I reminded them how bad I was sure I was, and how quick it could change- please get a helicopter.  The route out involved 3,000 vertical feet over several miles.  The ski patrol administered oxygen, but it was a long way from the advanced life support I could need at any second.

I have known many of the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Patrol in the thirty years since I patrolled there.  Many of these guys could have been my kids.  I could see, as charged as they were, the concern they had for the logistics of this rescue.  I kept reassuring them, get the helicopter and find a landing zone.  There was at least one possibility.  Hiking back up was not realistic.  Skiing out would involve crossing a melting snow bridge over the river, we were nervous doing one at a time at speed, much less several guys lugging a sled and body across slowly.

After I was secured to the backboard, we had at least a mile before reaching a location level enough for a landing zone.  Increasing clouds and wind added some doubt about the chance of the helicopter, but the initial difficulty of the descent confirmed it was the best option.  Life Flight was activated and had about a forty minute ETA.  The route out involved crossing two valleys, gaining two ridges and a final descent down a steep bowl to the level spot.  It took several people to keep the sled from rolling while side stepping up the ridges to breaks between the corniced ridges.  These guys don’t get experience like this in the ski area.  I believe there were six patrol, in addition to my five friends.

I have to say I was impressed I never was worried about the guys losing the sled (OK, maybe a little, just because, not because of any screw up).  Gaining the steep ridges between the cornices can be a challenge without a sled.  My plea to avoid the last cornice and steep bowl and use a higher but steeper landing zone were smartly overruled in favor of lower altitude, slope and wind even if it meant more work.  The guys were amazing.

At this point, I was feeling more confident that I was going to remain conscious and probably did not have any life threatening internal injuries.  I remember looking up at beautiful swirling clouds and knowing if this was my time, it was OK.  I just hoped I didn’t have too many dues to pay…

The radio chatter focused on wind.  The sometimes calm changed occasionally to light gusts.  The varied terrain caused a lot of turbulence.  I knew the pilots would make the decision and would land if there was any way.  The extra descent provided good insurance for a landing.  Soon, the sweet sound of the helicopter was in the distance.  As they did a flyby, I hoped the wind stayed calm.  Slowly, carefully they approached, tested the snow and landed.

The paramedic arrived and made his assessment.  I pleaded for pain meds.  He said he had something really good- very smooth.  I didn’t care what it was, just sock it to me!  I always wondered what it would be like to ride in one of those helicopters.  They are a lot nicer than all the mountain rescue rigs I’d been in.  Once I was loaded, I realized I was below the window, and with my neck brace and backboard the only view I had was my medic- I couldn’t complain.  As we lifted off, there was a bump as the bird hit the upper wind pattern, but after that smooth sailing to OHSU in Portland.

A week in the hospital, two weeks in a care facility and about ten days at home, I have two more weeks before X-rays to determine when I can begin to put weight on my leg.  I have a simple (straight) fracture just below the head of my femur and a spiral (angled) fracture below that.  The area in between was shattered.  I will probably lose a little length in my leg, but it seems minute compared to other scenarios.  I have a compression
Fracture in my L1 vertebrae that did not require surgery.  I only wear a corset style brace between my hips and ribs with a bar up my sternum to keep me from bending. 

I am sharing this with all of you for a very important reason.  I have been ski mountaineering for thirty four years.  This was not a difficult trip.  It was somewhat of a freak accident I still can’t explain.  There are a few things I learned and would do differently.

First, never let your guard down.  If this was a more difficult descent, I don’t think it ever would have happened.  I would have been more focused.

Second, I bought a SPOT personal locater beacon, which I did not need to use or have turned on, but should have.  I have the extended coverage and rescue insurance.  SPOT declined my rescue claim because I did not have my beacon turned on.  They would have preferred to coordinate the rescue through their channels.  Since I knew my most efficient rescue was through Ski Patrol and private helicopter they said they did not have the opportunity to pursue less expensive alternatives.  Since my injury was life threatening and/or had I at least activated the SPOT, I may have had a chance to appeal this stipulation.  “It is all in the contract…”

Third, my $17,000 Life Flight bill is being denied by my insurance.  BUT, did you know you can buy Life Flight insurance for $65 a year for an individual or $120 for a family.  Now, it’s not going to work in a lot of places in the mountains, but it is a possibility with some effort to get to a safe landing zone.  In my years on the mountain, I have seen them land pretty high.  I believe they still use a high altitude rated bird.  I wonder how many days in the Chugach I could have bought…

Finally, I cannot thank enough the Ski Patrol and everyone else involved at Mt. Hood Meadows.  Waiting for mountain rescue would have added hours to my extrication.  Although it didn’t matter this time, it could have been the difference between life and death.  Thank you my friends- I do not know how I can ever repay you enough!

I hope my experience can help all of you out.  Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you.  Hoping to see you on the mountain again soon!  Dale~~~~~~~~













« Last Edit: 06/02/09, 05:10 PM by Dale Crockatt » Logged

Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jason_H.
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #1 on: 06/01/09, 07:59 PM »

Wow, thanks for the story and best wishes for a speedy recovery. I always tell my friends it will be the easy things I do that will get me.
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Stugie
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #2 on: 06/01/09, 08:09 PM »

Wow, thanks for the story and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Wow.  Ditto.  Way to stay collected and calm and take appropriate action.
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
ron j
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #3 on: 06/01/09, 08:56 PM »

Dale,
Know the route well, thanks to you and Steve leading our Silcox gang down the WR drainage to Hwy35 in May of 2008, almost exactly a year prior to you accident. It was kind of you to show us the way.
Heal quickly, bro, that mountain is still waiting to treat you better.
Ron Jarvis
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #4 on: 06/01/09, 09:53 PM »

Glad to hear all's ended fairly well. Best of luck for a speedy recovery.! Hard to believe that the SPOT rescue insurance would require that they arrange the rescue/ require that the beacon be turned on (except for verification that you had it along at all).

It's the little things and the lucky things ...
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Dale Crockatt
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #5 on: 06/01/09, 09:56 PM »

thanks to you and Steve leading our Silcox gang down the WR drainage to Hwy35 in May of 2008,
Ron, I thought of you, your friends, my friends and many previous celebrations in the parking lot that day.  A few weeks before we had one of those "best ever days".  What a difference.  Here is that happier day.


* IMG_0620arr.jpg (165.98 KB, 800x600 - viewed 2345 times.)
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Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
ryanl
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #6 on: 06/01/09, 10:02 PM »

Good luck Dale in your recovery.
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Zap
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #7 on: 06/01/09, 10:08 PM »

Thanks for sharing your experience.
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Dale Crockatt
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #8 on: 06/01/09, 10:21 PM »

I would be interested in knowing if anybody has had any experience with SPOT and a successful rescue claim.  Thanks to all of you for your wishes and providing me with the closest thing to climbing I'll get for awhile.


* 20090220_Super_Bowl_climb.jpg (182.88 KB, 800x600 - viewed 2254 times.)
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Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Jim Lamb
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #9 on: 06/02/09, 11:26 AM »

Dale,

Thanks for sharing the details. A speedy recovery to you my friend!

Jim
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danhelmstadter
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #10 on: 06/02/09, 01:19 PM »

Holy Sh#% Dale!

sounds like an awful, scary experience.

my wishes are with you for a speedy recovery.


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Dale Crockatt
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #11 on: 06/02/09, 01:57 PM »

Thanks Dan.  That's what I get for skiing the easy stuff!  Still looking forward to a beer at Charlie's.  Let me know if you get in the area.  Remember, it's not what you see that gets you- it's what you don't see!  Keep the adventures coming!


* cathedral_ridge_Mt_Hood.jpg (169.61 KB, 400x600 - viewed 2010 times.)
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Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
stoudema
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #12 on: 06/02/09, 07:33 PM »

Dale - Best wishes for a speedy recovery and hope to see you out on the mountain when you're well!  I have the $65 yearly life flight insurance (mostly for two week long backcountry excursions into Hells Canyon and the Eagle Cap Wildernesses) and have been trying to convice my partners to get it as well.  Your story might make the difference.  Thanks for sharing.
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Stugie
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #13 on: 06/02/09, 08:22 PM »

I have the $65 yearly life flight insurance

That sounds like a worthwhile investment for sure.
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
Lisa
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #14 on: 06/03/09, 12:29 PM »

Wow!  I hope you recover soon, thanks for sharing the info on buying insurance, I can't believe it cost $17k, that is outrageous!  Take care of yourself and may you have a speedy recovery, I am glad you survived. 
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David_Coleman
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #15 on: 06/03/09, 08:29 PM »

Dale - did you mean to leave off a zero, or am I reading that correctly in that it's more than the cost of some brand new cars?

Best wishes on a quick recovery!
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Dale Crockatt
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Re: May 1, 2009- Mt. Hood accident in White River
« Reply #16 on: 06/03/09, 09:01 PM »

$17,000.  I'd do it again if I was in the same situation, but next time I will have the insurance, and my SPOT turned on!  I guess I'll be hiking in the Chugach instead of flying...  and driving my old truck!
« Last Edit: 06/04/09, 02:36 PM by Dale Crockatt » Logged

Happy trails!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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