The 16-year-old boy had reached the Pearly Gates, the icy, chute-like section of Mount Hood just below the last push to the summit, when he lost his grip. He plummeted down the ice- and snow-covered mountain, coming to a stop only after he had fallen 500 feet down a headwall known as Devil’s Kitchen.
Somehow, Gurbaz Singh survived, suffering only a broken leg.
“A lot of things had to happen just right for him to come out of that with just a fractured leg,” Sgt. Marcus Mendoza, a public information officer with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, told The Washington Post. “The way it was described to me yesterday is that professional mountaineers know they cannot fall in that area because there’s no way to rescue yourself.”
The Canadian teen’s dramatic rescue from the Oregon mountain unfolded over several hours Monday, chronicled through a local TV station’s live stream and tweets from the sheriff’s office. A team of search and rescue coordinators hiked up to the injured climber, who was stranded at an elevation of about 10,500 feet. They arrived around 1 p.m. – four hours after the call for help came in.
At 11,240 feet, Mount Hood is the highest summit in Oregon and the most-visited snow-covered peak in the nation, according to the U.S. Forest Service. About 10,000 people attempt to ascend it each year. But the mountain can be dangerous: Since 1883, at least 126 people have died while climbing it, according to a database maintained by the Oregonian newspaper.
The most recent fatality happened in February 2018. Miha Sumi, a 35-year-old Portland resident, was descending from the summit with three other climbers when he slipped and fell about a thousand feet. Another climber called 911 after following a trail of blood to the injured climber. Sumi was airlifted to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“This is a mountain, it’s a technical mountain, this isn’t a Sunday stroll,” sheriff’s Lt. Brian Jensen told Q13 Fox. “It’s inherently dangerous and you know, going up there, you need to have the proper skill set and the proper equipment to do so safely. Doing so with anything less than that can – it can be dangerous.”
Yet despite the deaths over the years, Mount Hood has remained a popular climbing destination. Though it does not rank among the country’s highest peaks, the mountain’s proximity to Portland and the city’s airport makes it accessible to those with climbing dreams. Timberline Lodge, featured in “The Shining,” is on the south side of the mountain and draws skiers year-round.
It doesn’t have the remote feel that other mountains might.
“It kind of lulls you into this sense of security because as you’re going up, you can see the lights of Portland; you can see Timberland Lodge,” Mendoza said.
For Singh, Mount Hood was climb number 90, his father, Rishamdeep, told KATU. The teenager traveled with friends from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, to Oregon to summit it.
The group started climbing early Monday, with Singh leading the pack, KATU reported. Then he slipped in the Pearly Gates area – a part of the ascent Mendoza said has been described as “almost like climbing up a chimney.” He tried to use his ax to end his fall, but found he couldn’t.
“He just kept sliding down and getting momentum,” his dad said. “So he couldn’t stop.”
When Singh finally came to a rest, his helmet was “essentially destroyed,” Mendoza said. Yet he was mostly unscathed, except for his leg. Someone called 911, and the rescuers began the hours-long trek to his side.
Their effort was closely followed in the Portland area. The sheriff’s office officials posted updates on Twitter, detailing the weather on the mountain (mostly clear) and the teen’s condition (stable).
Local television station KGW streamed a portion of the operation live, showing rescuers making their way down the mountain on skis, pulling Singh in a sled. Around 5 p.m., the sheriff’s office announced on Twitter that the rescuers had gotten the teen to the Timberline Lodge, where an ambulance was waiting to take him to a hospital.
Singh underwent surgery Tuesday at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland and was in good spirits, KATU reported. The teen’s brush with death didn’t deter him from climbing: his father told ABC he would be “back soon to finish the job.”