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'It fell, then you heard her scream' - climber sees Mount Hood rock fall

MILWAUKIE, Ore. -- Heather Nunn was near the top of Mount Hood, in a snow chute with eight other climbers, when she heard the noise.

"We just heard it, basically kind of like a boom," she said.

That was a boulder, the size of an engine, rolling down the mountain not long after 9 a.m., she said.

"It fell, then you heard her scream," added Nunn.

Heather Nunn

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said the boulder hit Casey Ferguson, 27, and broke her leg.

Nunn said climbers at the top saw the boulder fall and yelled, "Rock!" The climbers in the chute scrambled to move aside, including Ferguson.

"She was pivoting -- put all of her weight on her left foot to jump out of the way and her body made it, but her leg didn't," said Nunn.

Ferguson was at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in fair condition, at last check.

Nunn said it was a close call for all of the climbers in the chute.

"Me and the two climbers below me had just split seconds to get out of the way. It was about six inches on the right of us and just flew by us, probably like 30 miles an hour," she said.

After the rock went by, Nunn said she and other climbers used their gear to haul Ferguson out of the chute and up to an open area. She said they used their clothes to keep Ferguson warm. Some climbers even stayed with Ferguson until the helicopter arrived, about 10 hours after the accident happened.

"Thoughts were just to get her to safety, get help, help up there as soon as possible," said Nunn. "She was our No. 1 priority, getting her, getting her stabilized."

At the Oregon Mountain Community in Northeast Portland, experienced climber David LaGreca said the falling rock is making Mount Hood too risky for climbing right now.

"I would say at this time of year on Mount Hood, the climbing season is all but finished," said LaGreca.

LaGreca said the warm weather is making it hard for the mountain to hold its rocks in place.

"The conditions deteriorate very rapidly because we rarely even have freezes at night," he said. "When you're hiking and rocks haven't been held in solidly, they're a lot more likely to just fall on you."

LaGreca said Mount Hood climbing season is usually over by the end of July, but this year is different.

If you do decide to go, LaGreca recommended you go early, starting your climb about three hours before dawn or earlier, and summiting not long after dawn, so the mountain doesn't have as much time to thaw.

He said you should wear a helmet to protect you from smaller debris, and use hiking poles and walk carefully so you don't dislodge debris and hurt people below you.

He also said you should have one person in your party watch the timberline, so that they can see if something is falling and yell, "Rock!"

"It's not like yelling, 'Fire' in a building. People will always look up and they will always be appreciative. And then they at least have a chance," said LaGreca.

LaGreca also suggested checking out Portland Mountain Rescue's page with helpful information for climbing Mount Hood in May and June

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