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'I was upside down': Surrey 16-year-old survives 500-foot fall from mountain in Oregon
Published Wednesday, January 1, 2020 10:31AM PST Last Updated Thursday, January 2, 2020 8:06AM PST
VANCOUVER -- A high school student from Surrey, B.C., is recovering after surviving a fall of about 150 metres while ascending a popular climbing mountain in Oregon on Monday.
Sixteen-year-old Gurbaz Singh had been climbing Mount Hood with a group, and was nearing the summit on the morning of Dec. 30 when he fell.
"I was ascending near the Pearly Gates," Singh told CTV News Wednesday, referring to an area with an elevation of about 10,500 feet (3,200 metres).
He knew he had to stop his tumble, "because when you tumble, you're gaining momentum," so he tried to create friction.
While he estimates he was falling for less than 20 seconds, he says he fell a distance of about 500 feet (152 metres). Singh came to a stop in an area just above a part of the mountain known as Devil's Kitchen.
"I was upside down," he said.
Singh suffered a broken femur, which required surgery after he was rescued, but first, he had to wait. It took crews several hours to get to him due to his location.
Fortunately, others in the area were trained emergency medical technicians. He said they were able to get to him early on, and helped him manage the pain until rescuers arrived.
"There's lots of cramping going on and they really helped me. They literally saved my life. They helped me get through a really tough time with a lot of pain," he said.
"I can't thank them enough."
Rescuers reached Singh early in the afternoon, splinted his injured leg and began making their way down the hill.
Singh was taken down the mountain on a stretcher, with skiers accompanying him.
The teen also expressed gratitude to his rescuers and members of ski patrol who helped get him downhill.
"I'm really grateful for whatever they do. I've always been a big supporter of search and rescue groups," he said.
His father, Rishamdeep Singh, drove to Oregon to be by his son's side.
"We are just so thankful that it turned out the way it has," he said.
Fellow climber Mel Olson was with Singh on the Mount Hood trip. She told CTV News Vancouver there were a lot of other people on the mountain that day, and initially, everything went well. But at a point closer to the peak, something went wrong.
"One of his footholds broke and he just went for a tumble," Olson said.
Singh was above her at the time, and Olson said she got out of the way just in time.
"It was horrible," she said. "The whole time I didn't know whether he was alive."
Singh's father said he's grateful for the rescuers who helped save the teenager.
"All of them are heroes," his father said.
He and Olson said Singh is an avid climber, who has completed nearly 100 summits so far.
Olson said she met Singh through a hiking group about a year ago. She described him as "bubby, really energetic" and positive.
"I don't want people to assume that he wasn't prepared, or he wasn't experienced enough to do this climb. He was very well prepared, he was experienced enough to do this climb, and it's just an accident that happened," she said, and added Singh had proper equipment with him such as crampons, an ice axe and a helmet.
"He was testing all the holds, making sure he could get up safely, but sometimes it just happens," she said.
Singh himself says his experience and caution paid off, crediting his training and instinct. He said his helmet, which was destroyed in the fall, likely saved his life.
But, he added, "I was just really lucky. That's all I can say."
Steven Song has also climbed with Singh, and agrees the teen is careful.
"I actually haven't known anyone else at that age who has done as many peaks as he does," Song said. "He's very passionate about the mountains."
Climbing isn't the teenager's only interest.
"He's played chess in competitions, he's an honour-roll student," his dad said. "He's a very brave kid and I'm very proud of him."
His father also said once Singh has healed, they intend to return and climb Mount Hood together.
Olson isn't surprised Singh hasn't lost his passion, despite the setback.
"That sounds like him, absolutely," she said. "It's amazing, and so grateful."
Singh said Wednesday he was already up and walking.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time. Just trying to get back up onto my feet."
Olson has started an online fundraiser to help the family with any expenses.
According to the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, Mount Hood is the highest mountain in Oregon at 11,239 feet (3,426 metres). More than 10,000 people make the ascent to the mountain's summit each year.