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Search continues for couple on Mt. Hood with avalanche danger and high winds
by Aubra Salt - The Oregon Herald
  Tuesday December 15, 2009 - 8:13 AM
 
MOUNT HOOD, Oregon - The massive search effort to locate a pair of stranded climbers high on Mount Hood stretches into its fourth day today with no sign or clue of the young man and woman. Volunteer searchers are convening about 7 a.m. for their first meeting of the day. They are expected to review the weather forecast for the mountain and decide whether to dispatch search and rescue crews up the mountain to find Katie Nolan, 29, of Southeast Portland; and Anthony Vietti, 25, of Longview, Wash., who headed toward the summit early Friday morning and were never seen again.

Unlike the past three days, when the Black Iron Grill in the Wy’East Day Lodge was filled with mountain rescuers, this morning it is empty. Outside a steady snow continues to fall at Timberline Lodge. The lack of activity marks a significant change from the past few days. Officials with Portland Mountain Rescue and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office are expected to make an announcement at 10 a.m. about future search efforts. "This is still a search and rescue mission, absolutely," said Detective Jim Strovink, a Clackamas County sheriff's spokesman. Where Monday's conditions improved for several hours, allowing a military helicopter to scour the glacier for the missing climbers, Tuesday's weather dawned with heavy blowing snow. Conditions on Mount Hood remain treacherous.

Dave Elson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, said the forecast calls for 50 mph winds and heavy, steady snow. "It's pretty crummy this morning," he said. He said searchers may get a break in the weather -- as they did Monday morning -- about 11 a.m. Overnight, Government Camp got about a foot of snow. Temperatures in the upper elevations plunged into the teens. That area of the mountain also was pummeled by strong winds overnight. The risk of avalanche remains high. The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center has issued avalanche warnings for today on Mount Hood Nolan, Vietti and Luke T. Gullberg of Des Moines, Wash., left Timberline Lodge at about 1 a.m. Friday to climb Mount Hood. They were expected back at the Lodge about 13 hours later, but never showed up.

The body of Gullberg, 26, was found Saturday morning in the Reid Glacier area. Clackamas County sheriff’s search and rescue coordinators were told Friday night that the climbers left Timberline Lodge early in the morning and were due to return by about 2 p.m. When they didn’t show up, friends and family called for help. The three were experienced climbers and were well equipped for the summit on Mount Hood. They apparently completed the climbing register at the lodge prior to leaving at about 1 a.m. One of the climbers turned on a cell phone at 1:30 a.m., but there has been no contact with the group. The body of Luke Gullberg, left, was found Saturday morning on Mount Hood. His climbing companions, Katie Nolan, center, and Antony Vietti, still have not been found.

When the three hikers set out at about 1 a.m. PT Friday (4 a.m. ET), they were planning a fairly easy, "semi-technical" hike in which they would come down the south side of the mountain, said Deputy Scott Meyers of the Clackamas County, Oregon, Sheriff's Office. Monday's search also could include an unmanned aerial drone from Insitu, a Washington company. The company has talked with county search and rescue coordinators, but no decision was made on whether to put the drone in the air around the mountain. The search for 29 year old Katie Nolan of Portland and 24 year old Anthony Vietti of Longview, turned up nothing that could lead rescuers to the missing couple. The final frames in the camera indicate the climbers were at about 10,000 feet on the Reid Headwall, the steep rocky face that rises above Reid Glacier, about 1,000 feet below. From that point on the Reid route, climbers typically descend a short way before another short ascent to the summit.

One photo showed that the group was roped on the headwall, Broms said, and that Nolan and Vietti were trailing Gullberg. The rescuers who found Gullberg found no sign of a climbing rope. A digital camera found on Gullberg's body gave searchers information on where the trio might have been shortly before their disappeared. About three dozen Portland Mountain Rescue volunteers searched the mountain Saturday in falling snow and limited visibility. The search was concentrated near the Reid Glacier on the western face of Mount Hood. Mr. Hood rises 11,239 feet above sea level, with a vast base that stretches over 92 miles . It's the highest mountain in Oregon, a dormant volcano with steam constantly spewing from holes. Gullberg's death is the latest of many accidents on Mount Hood. The worst occurred in May 1986 when nine people, including seven students, died after digging a snow cave during a sudden storm.

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