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Portland woman rescued after falling 15 feet into fumarole on Mt. Hood

The woman had an injured shoulder, but authorities said she was fortunate that another climber was there to save her life.
Credit: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

MT HOOD, Ore. — A Portland woman survived a 15-foot fall into a fumarole on Mt. Hood Friday afternoon, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office (CCSO).

The sheriff's office said 32-year-old Caroline Sundbaum fell through a snow-covered fumarole at about 11,200 feet elevation in Mt. Hood's Devil's Kitchen area before 1:30 p.m. 

Mt. Hood is an active volcano with many small fumaroles, which are openings that emit steam and volcanic gases. After heavy snowfall, the fumaroles can be hidden by a snow blanket. Hot gases from the fumaroles melt the deeper snow and create large cavities, authorities said.

A fellow climber had seen Sundbaum sit on her backpack to rest, then noticed moments later that she had disappeared. There was a hole in the snow where she'd been sitting.

The witness called 911 before making his way to the fumarole and lowering a rope down to Sundbaum. She was able to secure herself with the rope and was hoisted out to safety around 2:30 p.m.

With help, she was able to make her way to the top of Timberline Lodge's Palmer ski lift. From there, rescuers used a snowcat to bring her down the mountain. 

Sundbaum had an injured shoulder, but the sheriff's office said she was fortunate another climber saw what happened, adding "it would have been extremely difficult to locate Sundbaum otherwise, and the air inside fumaroles can be toxic and potentially deadly."

A CCSO search-and-rescue team and Portland Mountain Rescue (PMR) responded to the scene. 

PMR said fumarole cavities form in the same general areas on Mt. Hood every year, and are often revealed by depressions in the snow surface or open holes in the snow. They produce a rotten egg odor that often permeates the air. The agency urges climbers to avoid these areas. 

Those who don't know where fumarole areas are should ask knowledgeable climbers and research the topic.

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