Poor weather conditions hampered efforts Wednesday to search for two parties overdue from the backcountry of Mount Rainier National Park.
Park officials say two searchers traveled the route above Paradise to Panorama Point on Tuesday afternoon to assess conditions in the area and look for signs of the overdue parties.
"Travel was extremely difficult with the team sinking two – three feet into the snow with each step. Visibility was limited, winds were gusting up to 100 mph, and their tracks filled in behind them as they negotiated the deep snow," said park spokeswoman Patti Wold.
The incident command team, lead by Park Ranger Kelly Bush, was planning to send field teams out once conditions become favorable. Efforts were currently focused on organizing a team of skilled skiers and climbers who have experience in negotiating the terrain to Camp Muir in difficult travel conditions. The team will be prepared to launch an extensive search once weather conditions improve.
The plans include an aerial search by helicopter once flight conditions were favorable. The weather forecast indicates poor conditions through the forecasted future. Although both parties are equipped for winter camping, there is concern with the delay in getting searchers into the field due to the risk associated with difficult travel conditions, severe weather, and extreme avalanche conditions. Avalanche conditions have gone from high to extreme overnight.
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 Sunday, January 15 -- Mark Vucich, 37 from San Diego, California and Michelle Trojanowski, 30, from Atlanta, Georgia. A second party of two climbers on a summit attempt via the Disappointment Cleaver route was due back Monday, January 16th. The names of the second party have not been released.
Both parties were equipped for camping in winter weather. Due to weather conditions it is expected that they are waiting out the weather before attempting to descend to Paradise.
With the severe weather conditions over the weekend it is expected that the parties would be overdue.
Visitors to the upper mountain are advised to stop moving, dig in and wait for better weather during severe weather and white out conditions. There is a winter storm warning in effect through Wednesday night. The storm was predicted to bring 24" – 42” of new snow to Paradise.