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Experienced climber found dead in Mount St. Helens volcano crater 1,200 feet below summit

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Posted at 8:59 AM, Apr 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 10:59:32-04

An experienced climber was found dead on Saturday inside the crater of Mount St. Helens, a volcano in Washington state that draws hikers, skiers and snowboarders year-round. Officials say he was attempting to snowboard and died after falling roughly 1,200 feet from the summit, where an icy ridge had cracked off near the rim beneath his feet.

The climber was identified as Roscoe "Rocky" Shorey, a 42-year-old from Washougal, Washington, according to the Skamania County Sheriff's Office. In a statement, the office called Shorey "an experienced mountain climber" who had successfully reached the summit of Mount St. Helens 28 times before.

When he arrived at the summit of Mount St. Helens, authorities believe that Shorey encountered an enormous cornice that proceeded to break away from the rest of the volcano and crash inward into the crater. A cornice is essentially an overhanging block of snow that is tightly-packed and perched atop a mountain crest or ridge. They can become less sturdy and harder to detect in warmer weather.

The sheriff said that Shorey's body was discovered Saturday by a group of climbers who reached the mountain's summit at around 7 a.m. and noticed various personal items near the rim of the crater, including a backpack and digital recording devices. Close by, a snow cornice had broken off and tipped into the crater.

A search and rescue team was able to successfully recover the body after being airlifted into the crater itself and then walking on foot to the remains.

"The Skamania County Sheriff's Office would like to remind climbers of the dangers warmer weather brings to the local mountain attractions," their statement said.

The sheriff's office will work with search and rescue crews to compile a more thorough report on the circumstances surrounding Shorey's death, with input from the Northwest Avalanche Center. A preliminary report from the avalanche center included findings similar to those released by the sheriff.

"NWAC is saddened to report an avalanche fatality as a result of a cornice fall on Mount St. Helens," the center said in a statement. "On Friday, March 29, 2024, a snowboarder summited the peak. While standing near the top, he triggered a cornice and fell to his death. Our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and community."

Located inside a national park in the Pacific Northwest, Mount St. Helens stands about 50 miles north of Portland and 100 miles south of Seattle. It is an active stratovolcano, with a conical shape composed of many layers of hardened lava and other volcanic material that towers over neighboring mountain ranges at an elevation of more than 8,300 feet. After the volcano infamously erupted in 1980, there is a massive crater extending two miles across the top, where its peak once was.

Although there was continuous volcanic activity happening at Mount St. Helens for decades after the deadly eruption, officials have estimated that thousands of people visit the crater rim every year, among even more who visit the park and keep lower to the ground. Permits are required for climbers to summit the volcano past 4,000 feet.