Search Being Scaled Back for Missing Climber in Mount Rainier National Park
Another search-and-rescue operation in the National Park System has been scaled back due to a lack of success, this time in Mount Rainier National Park where a climber went missing Thursday.
On Saturday a ground and air search continued for Eric Lewis, 57, of Duvall, Washington, who vanished Thursday when he became separated from two companions. A team of climbers searched the Nisqually Ice Fall and Gibraltar Chute areas, and a Chinook helicopter flew climbing areas it seems possible Mr. Lewis could have ended up, the park reported.
The man went missing when his climbing companions discovered that he had unclipped from the climbing rope at 14,000 feet and disappeared. The three-man team was ascending the Gibraltar Ledges route and encountered bad weather, with high wind and visibility of as little as 5 feet, said the park.
According to park officials, the climber in the lead, Don Storm, Jr., stopped and was joined by the second climber on the rope, Trevor Lane. As they waited for Mr. Lewis to join them, reeling in the rope, they discovered only a coil of rope with a knot, the park said. They had caught glimpses of Mr. Lewis on the rope just moments before, and immediately searched the slope below them. They proceeded to the summit ridge in case he had skirted around them. They then returned to Camp Muir, the climbing high camp at 10,200 feet, and reported the incident to climbing rangers.
Climbing ranger Tom Payne and two mountain guides climbed to the summit looking for Mr. Lewis late Thursday afternoon. On Friday the search expanded, with more than 40 personnel involved. Ground searchers included National Park Service climbing rangers; climbing guides from Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., Alpine Ascents International, and International Mountain Guides; and volunteers from Olympic Mountain Rescue.
Park rangers aboard a military Chinook helicopter from Fort Lewis and a commercial helicopter from Northwest Helicopters searched from the air. Searchers located the climber's backpack, climbing harness, and snow shovel at 13,600 feet, and a small snow cave at 13,800 feet. Mr. Lewis did not have a sleeping bag, tent, food, or down jacket with him.
"The search area is high-elevation glacial terrain and demands a high level of technical skill. The odds of finding the missing climber alive must be weighed against the risk to searchers operating in such hazardous conditions," said Incident Commander Glenn Kessler. "We've thoroughly searched the areas where we were likely to find Eric Lewis, and believe it's now time to scale back. Normal patrols of the mountain with a vigilant eye toward finding clues pertaining to the missing climber will continue."
On Friday a week-long search for a missing Georgia man in Joshua Tree National Park wound down. William Ewasko, 65, of Marietta, Georgia, was reported missing last Friday, June 25, and was believed to have been hiking in the Quail Mountain area of Joshua Tree.