Oregon Officials Fear Survival Chances of Two Climbers Unlikely

A glove, a candy wrapper. Searchers say they want any small sign of two climbers still missing on Mount Hood.

But instead, rescue teams are finding more indication the men have been lost to the mountain. Climbers Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke have been on Mount Hood for 12 days.

A third climber, 48-year-old Kelly James, was found dead Sunday. An autopsy was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday. Officials said the climber had a dislocated shoulder.

Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler said abandoned equipment, photos and notes left behind indicate the two men are likely in a small but treacherous portion of the mountain known as "the gullies."

The area is known for falls. This, as well as avalanche conditions, freezing temperatures and fierce winds over the past week, has lessened hope for the two men.

"This office isn't going to give until someone tells me the risk of doing this outweighs the results," said Wampler. He said he confers regularly with experts on the survival chances of the men.

But the search has been scaled back and Wampler acknowledged the time is approaching when the effectiveness of the search and the safety of its searchers need to be re-evaluated.

Officials said photos taken by James show that the team was not well-equipped for a long stay. Ice axes left in a crude shelter indicate the men had a difficult stay and moved forward without crucial tools.

The snow cave, cut into the ice of a nearly vertical cliff, is the last sign of the two men, who are thought to have left the injured James to seek help. It is possible Hall and Cooke were swept off the mountain by 100 mph winds, were buried in last week's blizzards or created a shelter for themselves by burrowing into the snow and sharing their body heat, as climbers are trained to do.

Search teams made a full-scale attack of the mountain over the weekend. But the search was scaled back to two air teams Tuesday and the rest of the crews were put on standby.

With more snow on the way, the search may be completely halted Wednesday, the sheriff's office said.

"This is probably the largest mountain search and rescue, and complex one, that I remember in some many, many years," said Bill Pattison, a member of the Crag Rats, a rescue group that has helped in the search.

He called Tuesday a "solemn" day for the families as the likelihood of finding the men alive greatly diminished. Two friends of family flew over the mountain Tuesday, which Pattison characterized as a "farewell" flight.

Family members say their hope remains steadfast, but their words of hope are fewer and farther between. Wampler said they understand the need to reassess the search soon.

Crews, including a helicopter, avalanche team and climbers remain on standby — "the big search is over," he said.