IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Oregon rescuers race clock in search for hikers

As a winter storm barreled toward Mount Hood, rescuers raced to find two experienced climbers missing for four days on Oregon's highest peak.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As a winter storm barreled toward Mount Hood, rescuers raced to find two experienced climbers missing for four days on Oregon's highest peak.

A military Black Hawk helicopter spent Monday scanning the upper reaches of the mountain as ground teams fanned out below. But the desperate search ended for the day as darkness fell and the storm approached.

"No sign at all," said Monty Smith, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team who was aboard the helicopter.

Bad weather has hampered the search for Anthony Vietti, 24, of Longview, Wash., and Katie Nolan, 29, of Portland, who have been missing since Friday. The next storm was expected to hit Monday night.

Body found Saturday
Mountaineers found the body of fellow climber Luke T. Gullberg, 26, of Des Moines, Wash., on Saturday at the 9,000-foot level on Reid Glacier.

Officials were examining photos from Gullberg's camera for possible clues about the location of his two companions.

Teri Preiss, an aunt of Vietti, said the photos suggested the trio had changed their route up the mountain to avoid one that looked too dangerous.

Preiss believes her nephew and Nolan were strong enough to survive somewhere on the 11,249-foot mountain.

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 1,500-foot headwall, Rollins told The Associated Press. It was unclear, however, if he had fallen.

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, Rollins said, adding that roping slows climbers.

Mount Hood is a popular site among climbers in the United States. In 25 years, it has been the site of dozens of climbing accidents and fatalities. The worst on record happened in May 1986 when nine people — seven students from Oregon Episcopal School and two adults — died after they dug a snow cave during a sudden storm.

The latest search, which comes almost exactly three years after another trio of experienced climbers died on Mount Hood during a December 2006 blizzard, has generated heated debate among some about the wisdom of tackling the mountain during the winter, a season when brutal storms can move in quickly.

In this undated photo provided by the Clackamas Co. Sheriff's Office, Luke Gullberg is shown. Gullberg was among the three missing climbers on Mt. Hood in Oregon. Fears of an avalanche on Mount Hood forced rescuers to use a helicopter and airplanes in their search for two remaining climbers still missing on Sunday, a day after crews found the body of their climbing companion Gullberg on a glacier on Oregon's highest mountain.Clackamas Co. Sheriff's Office

Veteran climber Jim Whittaker, the first American to conquer Mount Everest, said he understands why climbers like the challenge of tackling Mount Hood in the winter.

"It's exciting and fun when you're testing yourself against the power of nature," Whittaker said in an interview from his home in Port Townsend, Wash. "But you've got to know what you're doing; you've got to be prepared."

Republican John Lim, a former legislator who's running for governor, said Sunday he plans to keep pushing for a state law to require mountaineers to carry electronic locator devices when they head for the summit of Mount Hood.

Many rescuers and mountaineers oppose such a requirement, saying it would create a false sense of security and prompt some climbers to take risks they otherwise would avoid.

In the latest case, the three climbers did not have a radio locator beacon but they did have a cell phone that was briefly activated as they were preparing to begin their ascent.