A team of elite mountaineers familiar with routes on snow-cloaked Mount Rainier and avoiding avalanches headed on Thursday to look for two overdue parties in Mount Rainier National Park.
The 10-member team headed out from Paradise shortly after sunrise up across the Muir Snowfield to search the intended route of two overdue parties. The team is made up of highly skilled mountaineers familiar with the route and in mitigating associated avalanche exposure. They are at the highest level of fitness as required for this strenuous assignment, park spokeswoman Patti Wold said.
The team is composed of Mount Rainier climbing rangers and park staff, and members of Everett Mountain Rescue, Seattle Mountain Rescue, International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated. A helicopter was on standby at Joint Base Lewis-McChord awaiting favorable flight conditions, although freezing rain is precluding flight operations today.
“The weather is the greatest challenge to search efforts at this time,” said incident commander Kelly Bush.
There has been a winter storm watch over the area, and moderate level avalanche warning for the area. The field team reported the snow has consolidated compared to conditions earlier in the week and that they were making good progress.
There are two teams of overdue parties currently on the mountain. A party of two planning to winter camp on the Muir Snowfield over the weekend was due out on this past Sunday. A second party of two climbers on a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route was due back Monday. Although both parties are equipped for winter camping, concern for their wellbeing grows each day due to their dwindling food and supplies.
Due to weather conditions it is expected that they are waiting out the weather before attempting to descend to Paradise. Visitors to the upper mountain typically are advised to stop moving, dig in and wait for better weather during severe weather and white out conditions.
The road to Paradise was closed at the park entrance Thursday. For more information on weather conditions visit the park weather webpage http://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/weather.htm
For a look at current conditions at Paradise visit the Webcam webpage http://www.nps.gov/mora/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm Note that the Camp Muir webcam is not maintained in winter.