It has been a week since two parties on Mount Rainier failed to return from their backcountry trips as planned, and high winds, deep snow, and towering drifts continue to hamper efforts to find them.
Thirty-seven-year-old Mark Vucich, of San Diego, and 30-year-old Michelle Trojanowski, of
Atlanta, Georgia, had planned to winter camp on the Muir Snowfield last weekend, with a return on Sunday, Jan. 15, according to Mount Rainier National Park officials.
A second party of two climbers, Sork (Erik) Yang, 52, of Springfield, Oregon, and Seol Hee Jin, 52, from Korea, on a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route was due back Monday, January 16th, officials add.
Storms that weekend left park officials figuring the two parties had simply "dug in" to wait out the cold and snowy weather. Last Tuesday a search for the overdue parties was launched, but high winds and snow have complicated efforts almost daily.
During the past week ground teams have encountered 30 – 60+ mph winds, white-out conditions, ice crusted snow, and snow depths 10 to 15’ with drifts up to 50’. Searchers are highly skilled mountaineers who are familiar with the party’s intended route and in mitigating avalanche danger in the area.
On Sunday, January 22, a small improvement in the week’s severe weather allowed ground teams to conduct visual searches of terrain previously obscured by weather, said park spokeswoman Patti Wold. A U.S. Army Reserve Chinook launched, but turned back due to limited visibility. The helicopter remains on standby at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
Ms. Wold says no sign of the missing parties has been detected to date. The search effort was to continue today, dependent on weather and avalanche conditions. In the event a weather window materializes on Monday, the Chinook and a Washington State Patrol fixed-wing are prepared to respond.
The weather forecast calls for snow, 5 – 10 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and winds up to 65 mph through Monday. Mount Rainier and Denali climbing rangers, personnel from the National Park Service Pacific West, Intermountain and Alaska regions, guides from Rainier Mountaineering Incorporated and International Mountain Guides, and Olympic, Tacoma, Everett and Seattle Mountain Rescue are contributing to search operations.