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Deadly Fumaroles

           Deadly Fumarols are Always Intriguing

 From the very first attempt to climb Mount Hood the fumaroles have intrigued those who saw them.

Dyer in 1854 noted the vents at the Crow's Nest atop Steel Cliff and threw a rock into one to ascertain its depth.

 James Deardorff in the climb of 1857 noted the signs of vulcanism at Crater Rock. Four of that party took turns of being lowered on a rope to explore a deep and extensive cave. Each was "delighted and astonished at the beauties before him - and returned from beneath the massive arch (of ice) regretting that he had not the time and means of exploring it further." A small opening below admitted sufficient light to show beautiful forms assumed by the snow and ice in melting and freezing.It was very fortunate that they did not have sufficient time.

 In 1866 the party of H.K. Hines, J.C.N. More- land, A. Waltz, and Washington Waltz were lured by the fumaroles on the descent. They made a detour through an ice cave in the crater. Looking downward over a 50-foot wall, they were stopped for lack of a rope and contented themselves with merely observing the steaming, smoking mouth of the crater.

 In August 1867, George H. Himes, W.S. Powell, J.S. Newell, Ed. W. Cornell, and S.G. Benson reported an immense fissure in the old crater that emitted sulphurous smoke and a hissing sound similar to boiling water. They reported it to be about 300 feet below the summit, possibly a crevasse that connected to fumaroles below.


 In an 1894 story for the Troutdale Champion, O.C. Yocum related the story of a descent which he and others had made in 1888 into the crater area.

In his own words, "I in company with several others, let ourselves down into Crater Rock (the means alongside), a distance of some 500 feet and passed from there nearly the same distance under the glacier to a point where the smoke and sulphur fumes emanate. We knew our lives were in constant danger, but curiosity led us forward. Once here we secured quite a number of sulphur crystals, some of which I still have, and started to pick our way out, when it occurred to me to toss into the opening a small stone. I'll never do it again. The rumbling, bumbling, sepulchral noise that rock made I never will forget. We didn't know at what moment it might cause an activity, of that old volcano which has been extinct for years. The feat of entering under the glacier has never been performed by anyone so far as we know, for the sulphur fumes have been too dense, quite sufficient to smother one at the entrance."

 In light of what happened to the party who experimented in entering the fumarole moat it Crater Rock in 1934, it seems very fortunate that Yocum and his party were able to come out alive.

 How many parties have tried to investigate the fumaroles, no one knows. Their deadly nature was not really known for 77 years after Deardorff unknowingly flirted with death by entering a fumaroles ice cave in 1857. The lethal nature of crater fumaroles was not really understood until an incident in 1934.


 Sunday, July 19, 1931. The deepest known penetration into Mount Hood's fumarole eaves was made by a party led by James Mount. Accompanied by James Harlow, Wallace York, Margaret Danks, and Hans Rhiger, he had climbed South Side Route and had returned to the crater by 7:00 a.m.

 It was at that point that they decided to explore the opening in the ice along the east side of Crater Rock, undoubtedly very close to the same area that claimed the life of Von Norman in 1934. Mount noticed that there were very few fumes on that day, and they decided to descend. The first rope length followed the sloping contour of the side of Crater Rock, but after about 120 feet or more of descent, the passageway opened up into a giant cavern of ice with a ceiling that ranged from 30 to 40 feet.

 They followed the cavern on the downward slope, noting that it began to turn to the right (southward toward White River). It came to an end in a small room, but there was enough space for a person to crawl under, between the ice and the muddy floor. Below that point they could see that the passageway opened wide again and ran downhill as far as they could see with their flashlights. They did not go any further, fearing the sulphur fumes, and climbed back up the sloping floor to Crater Rock and daylight.


 On August 27, 1934, a group of University of Washington students formed one of the parties climbing the South Side Route. In the party were Victor Von Norman, Edward Tremper, George Zaloudeka, Richard Coffin, and David Frank Reynolds. Returning from the top, across the Hogsback, they were intrigued by the fumarole on the east ,side of Crater Rock. Steam had melted a large cavern in the snow, making it possible to climb down the steep lava slope of Crater Rock toward the source of heat. Von Norman, with Tremper trailing 20 feet behind, travelled about 60 feet in, when he abruptly reversed his course. Appearing very distressed, he climbed upward a few feet, faltered, and dropped fifty feet to the bottom of the incline, where his body lodged between the rock and the snow.

 Tremper, by that time feeling the effects of the gaseous fumes, was able to climb out and call his companions. The Civilian Conservation Corps was building a shelter that summer in the crater, just north of the Devil's Kitchen fumaroles. Aunnie. Faubion and assistant, Harold Taylor, US Forest Service packers, happened to be at the new stone hut unloading a string of pack animals they had just brought up. The climbers ran the quarter mile to the packers and asked for help. Faubion grabbed his pack ropes and went with Taylor to the fumaroles. He soaked his shirt in snow water, wrapped his face, and was belayed into the opening by Taylor and Zaloudeka. The rope was too short, however that made little dif- ference, because he quickly became ill. Taylor next tried the descent and was dragged out in hysteria. The others had to restrain him from re- entering the cavern. Faubion sent one man down to Lone Fir Look- out to ask for help. He then descended with his ten pack horses single handed, leaving Taylor and the others at Crater Rock. In an hour and a half the news was in the hands of the 21-year-old guard at Lone Fir, Paul William .

 The time was about 6:00 p.m. Alarm was telephoned down to the Timberline Guard Station at Phlox Point, the end of the old road. Williams and his younger brother Robert J. Williams, left at once for Crater Rock, arriving about 9:00 p.m.

 Francis E. Williamson, Jr., forest recreational inspector at Zigzag, sent an army gas mask up to Ralph Olson, guard at Phlox Point, who then took it to the crater. Paul Williams donned the mask and descended nearly to the bottom of the cave before he was forced to retreat. Olson then attempted it and failed even sooner. The air was composed of noxious fumes with no oxygen content. Army gas masks could not supply oxygen, they merely acted as a filter. Olson hurried back to Lone Fir to call for oxygen helmets. Gary Leech, legendary climbing figure of Government Camp, meanwhile arrived on the scene. He, too, was repulsed by the gas.

 State police at Government Camp used their radio and summoned the ELrst aid car of the Portland Fire Department. Firemen Captain F.W. Roberts, C.M. Ferris, and E.R. Homschuh, ac- companied by Deputy Coroner, Arnold Bierinan, of Clackamas County arrived at Crater Rock mid- morning of August 28, with oxygen masks. Gary Leech donned a mask and succeeded in tying a rope around the tightly-wedged body. The weight of the breathing equipment overcame him, and he retreated to the surface. The firemen resuscitated him. Paul Williams then went down and freed the body so it could be hauled up. Feeling that his mask -was fogging on him, Williams pulled it back to adjust it, and was overcome. Firemen brought him back to life. It was characteristic of all the rescuersentering the cave, that they wanted to dash back in. Restraint was necessary.

 Two days later at Lone Fir, Paul Williams complained of chest pains and foggy vision. His brother, Robert, took him to Phlox Point, where they hauled him to the hospital. Likewise, Gary Leech was a hospital case. Ironically, had Von- Norman been capable of reviving, all the rescue effort might have been for nothing. They loaded his body on a packhorse. On the trip down the Mountainside, the horse stumbled and fell on VonNorinan's body, breaking many bones.

Pioneers Witnessed Mount Hood’s Volcanic Fire

 Mount Hood's volcanic activity was almost a thing of the past when white men began to record her antics. A ring-count of a tree, damaged by volcanic ash near Tilly Jane Camp on the north side, substantiates the date of an eruption in about the year 1825. Capt. John Fremont's visit at Methodist Mission at The Dalles in 1843 reported a comment from Reverend Brewer that there were two volcanoes close by. One, of course, was Mount Saint Helens. The other must have been Mount Hood. Judging from later events, it is very probable that some activity must have been observed between 1800 and 1843.

 Mount St. Helens erupted on November 22, 1842, laying down a half-inch of ash as far away as The Dalles. This eruption was verified in 1892 by a letter to Will Steel from Reverend J.L. Parrish of Salem. Parrish in the company of Dr. Babcock, Jason Lee, Alanson Beers, and others had seen it from the old mission house ten miles below (north) Salem. They saw arising from the summit immense clouds and scrolls of white steam. Under the steam was an emission that varied from gray above to black lower down. The next day the mountain was covered in a mantle of black that lasted until the winter snows covered the ash. The eruption was on the southeast slope of Mount Saint Helens about a third of the length of the slope from the top of the mountain. Parrish reported that in travelling down the river a year or so later, he could still distinctly see the fire burning on the mountain side.

 The Oregonian August 20, 1859, reported that on the previous Wednesday (August 17) singular clouds had formed over Mount Hood and occasional flashes of fire were seen in the evening. On Thursday night the fire was plainly visible. On the 19th (Friday) examination by telescope from Portland showed that a large mass had disappeared on the northwest side, and an immense amount of snow on the south side was gone.

 A month later on September 18, W.F. Courtney witnessed an eruption of Mount Hood from a cattle drovers' camp on Tygh Ridge near the east end of the Barlow Road. A member of a group driving cattle west, he was standing guard over the cattle at 1:30 a.m. with another man. He saw the heavens light up and a column of fire. "With a flash that illuminated the whole mountainside with a pinkish glare, the flame danced from the crater. Suddenly it sank from sight." They watched the volcanic display for about two hours, blazing forth at irregular intervals. In the morning the snow slopes were black with cinders and ashes. Courtney also reported being a member of a party at a later date, wherein they encountered hot cinders on the mountain sides. (Everett Record, May 17,1902.) Courtney's story was not backed up by any more reports from Portland.

 Six years passed before Mount Hood showed her subterranean fire to the world. On September 21,1865, John Dever, Company E, First Regiment, Washington Territory Volunteers, was standing guard from 5 to 7 am. Looking east to observe the glory of the coming dawn, he saw the top of the mountain enveloped in smoke and flame. Jets of flame were shooting up, accompanied by what appeared to be fragments of rock being cast high up. After he saw the rock fall there was a rumbling noise similar to distant thunder. Several members of the guard saw the display. Devers wrote a letter to The Oregonian published on October 26.

 At times unusual amounts of steam have been' observed. In 1907 Will Steel commented that he had seen black, sulphurous smoke that year. Sylvester, reporting for National Geographic, was camped at Government Camp in 1907, mapping the Mount Hood quadrangle and observing volcanic activity. On August 28 he visited the east side following a report by his field men that an unusual column of steam was seen rising from the summit all day. That evening a glow was seen behind Crater Rock "like a ciiimney burning out."


 However, a mud slide in August 1921 had people aroused. A wild story out of Government Camp told of hot water and volcanic sand mixed with boulders, a mass too hot to safely approach. Guides Orval Zimmerman and Chester Treichel went to the Zigzag Glacier to affirm the stories, and they quickly found that there was no warmth in the flow.

 The lookout in the summit cabin, Clem Blakney, spent an uneasy night as he heard the avalanching material roar into the crater. He said the summit ridge actually quivered. Slides had torn out the telephone line and the "life-line" climbing rope on the chute above the Big Crevasse. Mazamas A. Boyd Williams and T. Ray- mond Conway acted as investigators. They found the glacier had been cracked by a tremendous force where the mass of mud and water had poured through a narrow opening. Large blocks of ice had been pushed up to lay upon the surface of the glacier. One theory was that a large water reservoir concealed west of the Hogsback had broken loose to precipitate the unusual destructive flow.


 Mount Hood is a dormant volcano, as is Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and possibly other peaks of the Cascade Range. From the summit craters of these peaks, one can see stearn constantly spewing from fumarole areas. Their future is unpredictable. They may settle down and sleep forever, or one or more may suddenly burst into life. Such a renaissance of energy is usually preceded by earthquake tremors.

 Moana Loa on the Island of Hawaii has been erupting at intervals all during the written history of that area. However, it is a different type of volcano than Mount Hood.

 Mount Hood is of the acidic variety, similar to Mount Mazama, which blew its top about 6,500 years ago to form Crater Lake. Another of the same species is Mount Pelee on the Carribean island of Martinique. It erupted violently in 1902, expelling a cloud of glowing gas that asphyxiated a community of 30,000 in a half hour's time.

 If Mount Hood should blow its top, it probably would be much the same as the eruption of MountMazama, wherein glowing gasses shot 40 miles west to annihilate everything growing, ac- cording to Dr. Gordon G. Goles, geologist at the University of Oregon. Ashes of that explosion were deposited well up into the state of Washing- ton. Thousands of square miles received deposits of as much as a foot in depth.

 Such cataclysmic effects are usually ac- companied by violent thunderstorms and torrential rains, that compound the problem of ash by washing it downward into strewn beds. AU water supply for a vast area of the state would be destroyed, and transportation would be brought to a standstill.

 A lesser eruption could occur, similar to the 1825 occurrence near Cloud Cap Inn. Such a display would probably start from a weak spot in the crater or on an external mountain wall, worn thin as the glacier cuts deeper, near the source of molten rock. It might be limited in damage to the spreading of several inches of ash over the countryside, the size of the area depending on the explosion. The reader will recall that the missionaries at The Dalles told Captain Fremont in 1823, that TWO volcanic peaks were in evidence. The work of the small crater near Cloud Cap in about 1825 had left sufficient ash to be noticed.

 A larger crater could spew enough ash to create havoc with the Portland metropolitan area. Also, fast melting glaciers could cause giant mud flows, another source of trouble.

 Geologists feel that there is little chance of the type of eruption wherein molten lava flows down the Mountainside to cool. This is the type known, at Moana Loa in Hawaii. It does relatively little damage. The possibility of a volcanic disaster was covered in the Oregon Journal on March 14, 1973, in a story by staff writer Marge Davenport.


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