Three climbers who survived a fall and a harrowing, bone-chilling night on Oregon's Mount Hood say they relied on pep talk, training, an emergency beacon and a plucky mutt named Velvet to help them through the ordeal.Matty Bryant, Kate Hanlon, Christine Redl and Bryant's dog tumbled more than 400 feet down the side of the mountain on Sunday. All were rescued on Monday, cold and wet, but in relatively good condition."One moment I was walking, the next moment I was falling," said Bryant, a 34-year-old learning specialist who was leading a group of eight climbers up the 11,239-foot mountain when snow whipped up by 74 mph winds cut visibility to near zero.Bryant was tethered by a rope to Hanlon, 34; Redl, 26; Velvet, and fellow climber Trevor Liston, when Bryant lost his footing about 8,300 feet up the mountain. Hanlon, Redl and the dog were pulled down by Bryant's weight.Another climber grabbed Liston, but the others slid down the slope more than 400 feet into a canyon.All four and Velvet described the ordeal Wednesday on TODAY, appearing on air by satellite from Portland, Ore. They told host Meredith Vieira that they never panicked and just waited for rescuers who tracked their emergency beacon to their location 20 hours later.
Staying positive"I knew I was falling, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, we're continuing to fall.' At that moment, you think it is a long fall," said Hanlon, a high-school English teacher. "I don't remember much of it at all," said Redl, a waitress, who wore a knit cap to cover head injuries she suffered in the fall. "Apparently for three, or four, or five minutes I was unconscious. Then I was seriously confused after I woke up. Apparently from the marks on my head, I think I hit a crampon [climbing boot spike] on my head."Liston, who would have gone over the side with the others if a climber behind him hadn't tackled him, said he was helpless to do anything.
He said it was "absolutely horrifying" to watch his friends plunge down the mountain. "As a climber, you train yourself to watch out for your partners and catch their falls. Watching them go over is kind of a worst nightmare."The fallen climbers hunkered under a tarp Sunday night. They made contact with 911 operators by cell phone, tried to keep warm in wet clothes inside sleeping bags, had ample food and tried to stay warm with the help of Velvet and her thick black coat of fur.
It was the second time in the past three months that emergency crews were summoned to Mount Hood to try to rescue a climbing party. On Dec. 7, three experienced climbers — Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke — went up on the mountain for a two-day climb; 10 days later, searchers found two abandoned snow caves and a third cave containing James' body. Hall and Cooke, who remain missing, are presumed dead.
Unlike that group, the group rescued this week had a "mountain locator unit," an electronic beacon that rescuers used to triangulate their exact position on the mountain."We knew we needed to stay positive," Hanlon said, describing the group's time-passing rituals of calling rescuers every hour, eating and drinking small amounts on the half-hour, and exercises to keep muscles loose and to stay warm.When it got too quiet, Hanlon said she prodded Bryant, the group's most-experienced climber, to offer words of encouragement. "He'd give a pep talk and he'd say, 'We'll be OK. We're just uncomfortable,' " she said.Bryant's decision to bring Velvet, whom he found wandering during a climbing trip in Nevada two years ago, may have kept the group from frostbite and life-threatening hypothermia."It was definitely a situation where we were all just trying to stay warm. Sometimes Velvet was on top of us, sometimes she was at our feet," Bryant said. "We were all just doing the best we possibly could to stay warm and dry."
— John Springer, contributor for TODAY, and news reports