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Four people overdue on Mount Rainier; believed to be waiting out the weather

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on Jan. 17, 2012 at 9:25 am |
January 18, 2012 1:15 pm

UPDATED AT 1:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY

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A two-man search team has been battling snow, cold and wind today as they searched the route above Paradise to Panorama Point in hopes of finding four people stranded on Mount Rainier.

Travel was extremely difficult with the team sinking 2-3 feet into the snow with each step, said Patti Wold, park spokeswoman. Visibility was limited, winds were gusting up to 100 mph, and their tracks filled in behind them as they negotiated the deep snow.

Two climbers, an unnamed couple from Springfield, Ore., were expected to return to Paradise on Monday after a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route. Two campers, 37-year-old Mark Vucich of San Diego and 30-year-old Michelle Trojanowski of Atlanta, were due out from the Muir Snowfield on Sunday, Wold said.

The four are thought to be be equipped with tents, sleeping bags and other gear needed to survive, and officials believe they are hunkered down to ride out the storm.

Winds continue to blast the upper mountain Wednesday. Winds at Camp Muir were averaging 95-96 mph early in the morning, with peak gusts maxing out at 115 mph. Wind chills at Camp Muir have dipped as low as -40 degrees since the weekend. At Paradise, another 27 inches of snow had fallen in the 24 hours leading up to Wednesday morning.

Wold said there has been no word from either group as of late Wednesday morning.

The incident command team, lead by ranger Kelly Bush, is planning to send out teams as soon as conditions are favorable.

“Efforts are currently focused on organizing a team of skilled skiers and climbers who have experience in negotiating the terrain to Camp Muir in difficult travel conditions,” Wold said. “The team will be prepared to launch an extensive search once weather conditions improve.”

Plans also include an aerial search by helicopter once flight conditions are favorable. The weather forecast indicates poor conditions through the forecasted future

Even though the four are well equipped, “we are concerned that we aren’t able to get searchers out until the weather improves,” Wold said.

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One day after finding a snowshoe hiker, who had been missing since Saturday, staffers at Mount Rainier are doing a limited search for four more people who are overdue.

Two climbers were expected to return to Paradise on Monday and two campers were due out on Sunday, said Patti Wold, spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.

The campers are a 37-year-old man from San Diego and a 30-year-old woman from Atlanta. The climbers are a couple from Springfield, Ore. No names have been released.

The campers are on the Muir snowfield, an elevation of 10,000 feet, where visibility in a whiteout is zero. Wold did not immediately know which route the climbers are on.

“Putting searchers extensively on the mountain is not expected due to the risk involved including current severe weather, white out conditions and high avalanche danger,” Wold said.

Heavy snow, winds and cold temperatures have blasted the mountain since the weekend. Another 24 inches of snow has fallen at Paradise in the last 24 hours. Temperatures at Camp Muir have ranged from -9 to -2 degrees since Saturday. With winds reaching 90 mph at times, the wind chill has been around -40 degrees.

The next storm to hit the area is predicted to bring 24–42 inches of new snow to Paradise.

All are equipped for the conditions, and officials expect they are hunkered down. Rangers are watching the weather to see if it’s safe to check on them, Wold said.

Wold says the park advises visitors of the dangers of being on the mountain in the winter, but staffers can’t stop people from climbing or camping in the winter.

“Visitors to the upper mountain are advised to stop moving, dig in and wait for better weather during severe weather and white out conditions,” Wold said.

Yong Chun Kim, 66, of Tacoma, was found Monday afternoon almost 48 hours after he fell down a ravine while leading a local hiking club on a snowshoe trip above Paradise. Kim went home Monday afternoon after being checked by medical personnel.

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