Four people whose Easter sunrise on Mount Hood turned into a raging blizzard emerged safely Tuesday after spending two days stranded in a snow cave.
By all accounts, the group did everything right. They had the proper equipment and experience, but were forced to dig a shelter and hunker down near the summit when a strong Pacific storm raked the mountain Sunday.
“There’s always a risk element. You roll the dice a little bit with the weather,” Michael Whelan, 34, of Bend said after he and his three fellow climbers had warmed up in Timberline Lodge.
Searchers found the four walking near the Palmer Chairlift, at about the 8,000-foot level on the mountain, said Clackamas County sheriff’s spokesman Damon Coates.
They were put in a snow tractor and taken to the lodge.
The four began climbing to the 11,235-foot summit in clear weather Sunday morning, but a storm that hit about 11 a.m. caused a whiteout on the mountain and forced them to build a snow cave for shelter at about 9,500 feet.
Whelan said the group tried to climb their way off the mountain as weather conditions deteriorated.
“We came down as fast as we could,” he said. “It just beat us down. There’s not much you can do about that.”
The storm continued on Monday, preventing a full-scale search. Winds gusted to 54 mph with snow and fog cutting visibility to near zero.
The group left the snow cave when the weather cleared Tuesday.
Whelan was accompanied by his sister, Colette Owens, 31, of Portland; Shawn Corrigan, 36, of Bend, Ore; and Dr. Robert Sheley, 34, of Portland.
They were wearing appropriate clothing and were equipped with a compass and altimeter, bivy-sacks - small, self-contained, waterproof shelters - and adequate food.
They carried a radio beacon designed to allow rescuers to home in on lost climbers, but the device did not work properly, Coates said.
In cases where a climbing party’s negligence leads to expensive search efforts, the sheriff’s department considers passing on expenses to the group. This was not such a case, he said.
“Negligence wasn’t the cause of this,” he said. “Weather caused this. They had good equipment and knowledge.”
Coates said the search and rescue effort primarily involved volunteers and the only public expense was for the salary of two sheriff’s deputies who spent two days at the mountain.
Sheley is a radiologist at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland and Owens is a registered nurse.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.