GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. – Rescue teams headed up the flanks of treacherous Mount Hood on Monday to search for three climbers reported missing in heavy snow, but were ordered off the mountain when conditions became too dangerous.
Officials described the three men as experienced but said none had climbed Mount Hood before.
The mother of one of the men said he had called his son on a cell phone Sunday to say he was stranded in a snow cave just below the summit of the 11,239-foot peak while his companions went for help. Authorities were unable to re-establish cell phone contact with the climber, and there was no sign of the other men.
"From the conversation, it left us very concerned for the person's welfare," Chief Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Brown said.
Snow was falling heavily Monday at a lodge where the three men were supposed to meet friends on Friday or Saturday. Up to 18 inches of snow was expected through Tuesday, along with wind gusts of up to 55 mph that will reduce visibility and raise the risk of avalanches.
The Oregon Air National Guard said the weather was too dangerous to attempt a helicopter rescue, but a chopper was on standby in case the weather improved.
The seven three-member rescue teams searching for the men encountered wind gusts of 80 mph and blowing snow, said Deputy Marc Smith of the Hood River County Sheriff's Office. They didn't get higher than 8,500 feet.
"They're going to regroup, wait for a break in the weather and then go back up on the mountain," Smith said.
About 10,000 people a year start for the summit, and on average 20 to 25 have to be rescued.
The three men left their car on Wednesday to climb the difficult north side of Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest peak. They had planned to spend two nights on the mountain.
The route the climbers took is very difficult, with slopes of 50 or 60 degrees and occasional sheer walls of ice, said Steve Rollins, a rescue leader with Portland Mountain Rescue, which sent two teams up the mountain.
Rollins said conditions on the mountain were deadly, with hard ice, high winds and heavy snow. "There is no easy way off the mountain," he said.
A note that the missing climbers left at a Forest Service station said they were taking "minimal gear," Doug Jones, a permit specialist with the Mount Hood National Forest, told The Oregonian newspaper.
It was the second time in less than a month that someone was reported missing in snowy, isolated areas of Oregon. James Kim of San Francisco died of exposure after leaving his wife and their two small daughters in their snowbound car while he struck out on his own in search of help. His wife and children were rescued.