HOOD RIVER, Ore. - A 57-year-old priest from New Jersey fell to his death on the northeast side of Mount Hood Tuesday morning, authorities said.
The climber was identified as Robert J. Cormier, a Catholic priest from Jersey City, N.J.
Another climber who witnessed the fall, which happened at about 8 a.m., said Cormier was on the summit and looked north, when he fell through a cornice (an overhang of snow) to his death.
According to the witness, he fell about 1,000 feet on the Eliot Glacier side of the mountain (see map below). Cormier was climbing in a party of three people, according to Hood River Sheriff's Sgt. Pete Hughes.
"We’ve had this happen a few times where people have gone to take a look over to the north side of the mountain and actually fallen off the north side, which is a sheer face," said Sgt. Hughes.
Cormier was active for 31 years in the Newark Archdiocese. He was also an author and pilot.
On May 10, Cormier posted this message on his Facebook page:
"With today’s message I am pleased to announce to you that on Monday I am leaving on what will likely be my last attempt to climb a big mountain. In this case it is Mount Hood in Oregon. We have been at this kind of thing for 40 years and are very much hoping to finish with a victory. I will report to you next Saturday."
Investigators said the group ascended from Timberline Lodge, the traditional south side approach to the summit, and left at about 1:45 a.m.. Hughes said Cormier was climbing ahead of his party because another climber in the group had a leg cramp.
Conditions on the mountain were clear Tuesday, with temperatures ranging from the 50s at Timberline Lodge to the 30s near the summit. Avalanche danger has been high, due to the warm conditions and recent heavy snowfall.
"The summit of Mt. Hood can get cornices on it," explained Steve Rollins with Portland Mountain Rescue. "Cornices form when the wind blows snow and deposits snow and creates a lip over the edge of a cliff. And that can be deceiving when you walk up to it - you may not realize you are standing on a lip of snow with nothing underneath it.”
Searchers located Cormier's body on the Eliot Glacier headwall, in a crevasse, at about 10,500 feet above sea level, according to the sheriff's office.
"He was very unique," said friend Carl Duman. "He was passionate about what he wanted to do."
Conditions were unsafe for rescuers and crews will not attempt to recover the body this week due to avalanche dangers, deputies said.
Mount Hood is one of the nation's most popular mountains to climb, but it also has a deadly history.
Eliot Glacier is the largest by volume on Mount Hood. It's located near the summit, on the northeast slope of the mountain.
In August 2013, a soldier from Poland who set out to summit Mount Hood was found dead on Eliot Glacier. He had been climbing alone and was described as a novice.