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Whiteout preventing search for Mount Hood climbers

The Spokesman-Review
GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. — Whiteout conditions Tuesday prevented mountaineers or aircraft from searching for two climbers who have been missing on Oregon’s tallest mountain since the weekend. A winter storm was expected to dump at least a foot of snow on the slopes of Mount Hood, where Anthony Vietti, of Longview, Wash., and Katie Nolan, of Portland, went for a climb Friday. Searchers found the body of a third climber, Luke Gullberg, 26, of Des Moines, Wash., on Saturday at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. An autopsy showed he suffered minor injuries in a fall and died of hypothermia. Authorities said Tuesday morning that they haven’t given up the search but there’s little they can do until the storm lets up. A spokesman for the rescue operation, Detective Jim Strovink, said the storm could hang on for a couple of days. Bad weather has hampered the search from the start, with snowfall raising the risks of an avalanche. Search plans have varied almost by the hour, depending on Mount Hood’s mercurial conditions. On Monday before daylight, Jim Strovink, spokesman for the search and rescue operation, said ground and air searches were unlikely. Within hours, however, the clouds lifted and gave searchers a good view of the areas where family members hope that Vietti, 24, and Nolan, 29, dug a snow cave for shelter after a climb that somehow went wrong. “I couldn’t have hoped for better weather conditions,” said Monty Smith, a mountain climber who was in a military helicopter that rose above the summit of the mountain to examine high altitudes that searchers hadn’t been able to see or reach over the weekend. But, he said, there was “no sign at all.” For much of the time since the group was reported overdue, overnight temperatures have dipped into the teens with moderate winds and intermittent snow. On Monday, searchers said they felt the urgency of the forecast for a storm expected to bring 10 to 12 inches of snow. At dusk, the snow started and fell steadily and heavily into the evening. Teri Preiss, an aunt of Vietti, said she believes her nephew and Nolan were strong enough to survive somewhere on the 11,249-foot peak. Steve Rollins, a search leader, said the climbers had ice axes that could be used to hack out a snow cave. “It’s more like digging with a spoon than a shovel, but if your life is in danger, you can do wonderful things,” Rollins said. Photos from Gullberg’s camera also showed the group had standard mountaineering gear such as helmets and ropes. Officials previously said the climbers did not have shovels. Gullberg’s body was found on a flat area near the base of a headwall rising at a 50-degree angle to an elevation of 10,500 feet, Rollins said. Other photos showed the trio had been roped together at some point, but rescuers found no rope with Gullberg’s body. “That’s a big part of the mystery. Where’s the rope? Why wasn’t the group together,” Rollins said. Using ropes at a particular point of a climb is a decision climbers make depending on their confidence, ability and terrain, he said, adding that roping slows climbers.
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