The search, already held up by ice and rock falls and poor
visibility, has not been called off. But it will be limited to
efforts to spot the missing climbers from helicopters, said Patricia
Wold, a spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.
"Due to the extreme danger of rock and ice fall at the bottom of the
fall area we are not able to do a ground search," she said.
Officials believe the six climbers, caught in an avalanche of snow,
rock and other debris, likely fell about 3,300 feet (1,000 meters)
from the north face of the mountain in what would be the worst
accident on Mount Rainier in three decades.
Helicopter crews found climbing and camping gear in snow more than
3,000 feet (900 meters) below the climbers' last known position and
also picked up distress signals from the group's avalanche beacons.
The climbing party, including two guides from Seattle's Alpine
Ascents International, set off on Monday for a five-day trek
intended to take them up one of the toughest ascents of the
ice-covered 14,100 foot (4,298 meter) massif.
They were last heard from via satellite phone on Wednesday evening,
when they had reached a height of 12,800 feet (3,900 meters).
The climbers indicated they were fine and planned to reach the
summit on Thursday but noted bad weather seemed to be moving in. A
rain and hail storm swept through the area Wednesday and produced
snow at higher elevations.
Alpine Ascents' website describes the Liberty Ridge hike as "one of
the most technical and physically demanding climbs we do in the
lower 48 states".
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"The larger Alpine Ascents community and families are stunned and
grief stricken," a statement from the group said.
The identities of the climbers have not been released.
Mount Rainier, an active volcano, is part of the Cascade Range and
dominates the Seattle skyline. An ice fall on Rainier took the lives
of 11 hikers in 1981.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Ellen
Wulfhorst and Tom Brown)
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