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Search to continue for Mount Hood climbers

COOPER SPUR, Ore. – Expert rescue teams equipped with ice axes, ropes and other high-altitude gear on Tuesday were once again frustrated in their efforts to locate three climbers missing since the weekend on Oregon’s highest mountain.

After battling high winds and blowing snow, search teams suspended the search for the day without success.

An Oregon National Guard helicopter was able to survey the lower half of the mountain, but bad weather kept the crew from getting much higher than the 6,000-foot level on the 11,239-foot volcanic peak. Crews began coming off the mountain in the afternoon.

Rescue teams planned to debrief and map out a search strategy for today, said Deputy Gary Tiffany, spokesman for the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, which has been coordinating the search.

More snow and high winds were expected today, according to the National Weather Service.

“Right now, they’re dealing with 50- to 60 mph winds in the area they’re searching, and blowing snow. It really cuts down their visibility,” Joseph Wampler, sheriff for Hood River County, said earlier Tuesday.

Rescue teams have been combing the mountain’s upper elevations since Monday, in search of the three experienced climbers.

Winds weren’t as gusty on Tuesday and snowfall wasn’t as heavy, but the weather conditions were bad enough to once again frustrate efforts to locate the missing trio.

The last anyone heard from the climbers was on Sunday, when one, 48-year-old Kelly James, used his cell phone from a snow cave to say the group was in trouble.

Wampler said officials have not been able to reach James since then. However, he said, search officials have been able to narrow the approximate location through cell phone signals. He said searchers believe James’ snow cave is near the summit on the northeast side.

That may give searchers a good idea of where James is. But it is unclear where the two others might be.

In James’ call to relatives on Sunday, the climber said the two others – Brian Hall, 37, and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, 36 – had gone to look for help.

James and Hall, longtime climbing partners, are both from Dallas. Cooke is from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Kelly’s older brother Frank James, of Orlando, Fla., said all three are experienced climbers, and had decided to climb Mount Hood after meeting on Mount Rainier about a year ago.

“My brother has been climbing for 25 years, and he would know what to do in a difficult situation,” Frank James said.