Three college students who huddled in a tent for two days while a snowstorm raged around them on Mount Hood had everything they should have had except a link to the outside world.
The two men and one woman were picked up by a Sno-Cat driver shortly before noon Wednesday as they walked down the mountain, two days overdue from their spring break climbing trip. All three are students at Reed College in Portland, 60 miles west of the mountain.
An intensive search involving up to 100 volunteers began in heavy snow Tuesday night after the three failed to return as scheduled Monday afternoon from a weekend climb.
Samuel Nickerson, 20, James Hilger, 21, and Heidi Becker, 21, had plenty of warm clothing, fuel and food. What they didn’t have was a radio beacon or cellular telephone with which to contact authorities.
In a news conference after they were brought down the mountain, they said they had planned to try for the 11,235-foot summit Monday. But bad weather set in and they spent the next two days camped high in the snow above Timberline Lodge, playing cards and reading. They began walking out when the weather cleared Wednesday morning.
“We’re very grateful and it’s just good that we could all come down in one piece,” Nickerson said.
Hilger said the three expected a search would be under way but didn’t know how big it would be.
“I definitely had concerns for the rescuers out there, especially if they were out there last night or yesterday with such bad conditions,” he said.
Clackamas County sheriff’s deputy Chris Nolte said a beacon would have made the climbers easy to find, even in poor weather conditions.
“With the Sno-Cat, depending upon their elevation, depending upon their location, we could walk right to them, whether they’re injured, lost or just dug in,” he said.
Hilger, described as an experienced mountaineer who teaches climbing classes, said he would heed that advice next time.
“I recommend that people definitely invest in radios and cell phones just to let people know they’re safe or to prevent things like this or to call for rescues if they needed it,” Hilger said.
The radio beacons, which can be rented for as little as $5, came into common use on Mount Hood after seven students and two teachers from Oregon Episcopal School in Portland died in a storm in May 1986.
The Reed College climbers were found near the top of the Palmer Chairlift at the 8,500-foot level, which is 2,500 feet above Timberline Lodge.
“They were out walking when the Sno-Cat came across them,” said Deputy Damon Coates, spokesman for the Clackamas County sheriff’s department.
Hilger is from Beverly Hills, Calif., Becker is from Chico, Calif., and Nickerson is from Juneau, Alaska.
Friends and family said all along that they expected the three were safe.Nickerson’s girlfriend, Kartini Thomas, described Hilger as a “mountain climbing maniac,” and said all three climbers were familiar with Mount Hood.”I know that they’re all really levelheaded and really intelligent. I’m pretty sure they’re just sitting there waiting for the storm to finish,” she said Wednesday morning.
In Beverly Hills, Hilger’s brother, Steve, said his family was “ecstatic and relieved.” He said he expected his brother to continue with his hobby. “I just hope next time he takes some sort of signal, which I know you can rent out from the camping store,” he said. “Unfortunately for his family, I don’t think he’s going to stop climbing mountains.”
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