On Friday, July 23, 2021, a former resident of Mendocino County, Steven Van Pelt, was descending Oregon’s Mt. Jefferson, a 10,495-foot tall volcano considered by some to be the most difficult of the higher volcanoes when he fell several hundred feet and has not been seen since.
Linn County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Brandon Fountain told us the search continues into its fourth day as the Hood River mountain rescue team is making their way back up the mountain to search the area where Van Pelt fell.
A mountaineer reached out to us and said he had actually encountered Van Pelt and a climbing partner on Friday as he descended Mt. Jefferson approximately 1,200 feet below the summit. He said Van Pelt and his partner had started their climb at 4:00 a.m. from Pamelia Creek Trailhead taking the Southwest Ridge Route. The climber told us they were equipped with an ice tool and a whippet and both seemed to be in “good spirits and look to be traveling well/fast.”
The climber said he spoke with the pair around the Southwest Ridge and the “terrible traverse” which he characterized as “unnerving for me even with a good ice ax and an ice tool.” After getting down the mountain, the climber heard a helicopter “going back and forth” on the higher mountain and saw it hover over the North Ridge, and then it flew away from the mountain.
When the climber returned to the trailhead, he encountered a group of Search and Rescue personnel beginning their trek and “let them know what little info I had.”
Lieutenant Fountain told us search and rescue personnel is dispatched to Mt. Jefferson multiples times each year regarding injuries or fatalities. He said the mountain is an “extremely technical area” requiring specialty gear and experience.
A press release from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office states rescue efforts have been complicated by the nature of the terrain which is described as “extremely dangerous and requir[ing] technical mountaineers to traverse the mountainside.” The mountain’s “snow, cliffs, large boulders, crevices, and rock scree” have hindered rescuers’ ability to locate Van Pelt.