Family members resolve missing Mt. Hood climbers are 'in heaven'

Family members resolve missing Mt. Hood climbers are 'in heaven'

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by KGW.com staff

KTVB.COM

Posted on December 17, 2009 at 11:08 AM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 4:58 PM

 

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- The family members of the two climbers still missing on Mt. Hood said they've come to terms with the reality that they won't see their loved ones alive again and they're at peace, knowing Katie Nolan and Anthony Vietti are in heaven now.

The effort to find the two climbers has transformed into a recovery mission, officials announced at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

"The weather has not been on our side," said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts in announcing the decision. RAW VIDEO: Mission now recovery.

The fathers of the two climbers still missing on Mt. Hood expressed gratitude to rescuers for their efforts. The body of a third climber in the party was found Saturday.

"They have done everything that they could do," said David Nolan, father of climber Katie Nolan, who said the families did not want to put searchers in harm's way.  RAW VIDEO: "The mountain is very dangerous".

"We know that Katie is in heaven," Nolan added. "She has lived a life that is exemplary."

"Katie loved the mountain so much she wanted to be buried up there. And right now she is," said Nolan. RAW VIDEO: Katie loved the mountain...

MORE: Father calls Mt. Hood "majestic, beautiful."

John Vietti, Anthony Vietti's father, also thanked searchers and expressed his faith in God. "This has not shaken our faith, it has strengthened it," said Vietti.

Vietti said the last correspondence he had with his son was a handwritten note included in a birthday present Anthony sent to his mother, expressing his love and his anticipation for seeing his parents soon. "That was the last correspondence we had with him, and we will always cherish it," said Vietti. 

Weather thwarts search

Crews had hoped for a break in the weather Wednesday for one last possible air search over Mt. Hood but the storm never abated. A series of snowstorms dumped nearly two feet of snow on Mt. Hood since Monday.

Images from the cell phone of the third climber, 26-year-old Luke Gullberg, whose body was found Friday, revealed that all three climbers reached Reid Glacier, and suggest that there was an accident involving Nolan. Investigators believe Gullberg then tried to rappel to get help.

Investigators suspect Nolan was injured because mountaineers found just one of her gloves Saturday with the body of Gullberg at the base of the Reid headwall. The slope rises at a 50-degree angle from the glacier to within a few hundred feet of relatively easier climb to the top above 11,000 feet. They found neither of Gullberg's gloves, Thompson said, leading them to think that Nolan had lost one of hers in the accident, that Gullberg had left her his glove, along with his pack, and that he had headed downhill, taking Nolan's single glove for whatever warmth it would provide. After a fall in which he suffered bruises and scrapes, Gullberg died of exposure. His body was found at the 9,000 foot level, at the base of the 1,500-foot headwall of the Reid Glacier.

Nearby were tracks and some of his equipment, including a camera whose pictures gave rescue workers information about the route and equipment the climbers took.

Time an enemy of search

Searchers were sidelined since Monday afternoon by weather conditions, forced to wait out a snowstorm that's dumped nearly two feet of new snow on the mountain.  By late Tuesday, searchers said the two climbers' chances of survival were only one percent.

 Climber fell, died of hypothermia

On Monday, a deputy state medical examiner said that the third climber, 26-year-old Luke Gullberg of Des Moines, Wash., had died from hypothermia after he fell. Dr. Christopher Young said Gullberg had suffered minor injuries - cuts, scrapes and bruises - apparently caused by a fall. Responders on the mountain believe the 26-year-old was still able to move himself after falling an unknown distance. His body showed no marks from harnesses or ropes. Young determined that the fall had not injured him badly enough to kill him and that he died of exposure.  

The trio, longtime friends who'd met through church, according to family, had set out early Friday with plans to summit the mountain and then return mid-afternoon - a 13-hour roundtrip, according to registration documents they'd filed at Timberline Lodge. Friends and family described them all as "experienced climbers." When they did not return as scheduled, friends alerted authorities. PHOTOS: Climbers

Timeline: Climbers' trek, rescue effort

Monty Smith with Portland Mountain Rescue flew in an Oregon National Guard Blackhawk helicopter for several hours Monday, performing what searchers called a "deep scan" of the mountain for evidence of the two missing climbers. PHOTOS: Helicopter search

"We got extremely good visibility of all the expected climbing routes, with a chance to see all the likely and backup routes. We did not detect anything out of the ordinary, gear or people," Smith said, calling the results "very discouraging."

"Where we're searching is a complex system of gullies and ridges. Each gully has the tendency to accumulate snow," said Steve Rollins, a Mountain Rescue specialist, at a Monday morning press conference. "The dangers in this area [for the missing climbers and rescuers] include ... high avalanche danger, rock fall, ice fall. Anywhere on that face, there's the concern that someone would fall off the face of the mountain." 

Weather halts weekend search

The threat of avalanches forced teams who had been searching on foot back to base camp Saturday and avalanche danger continued to impede searchers Sunday. Monday's break in the weather gave rescuers their best opportunity to scan the mountain for the missing climbers. Rescuers indicated they'd eliminated possibility of the pair being below 10,000 feet and on Monday a fresh effort to locate the two near Mt. Hood's 11,239-foot summit was unsuccessful.  PHOTOS: Rescue effort

 

Climbers all experienced

A friend to the climbers told authorities they were "very experienced" in mountain climbing.  Vietti was a member of Olympic Mountain Rescue in Washington, according to the OMR website

Dennis Simons, a chaplain with the Sandy Fire and Police Department met with relatives of the three climbers. He said they were all devout Christians who "dedicated their lives serving and giving to others." Nolan has traveled worldwide, at one point helping to rescue young women from the slave trade, Simons said.

Of the three climbers, Gullberg was the most experienced.  Relatives were helping his parents cope with the death of their son and praying that the other two would still be found alive, Simons said.

Vietti's aunt, Teri Preiss thanked well-wishers across the country who held out hope that the pair would be found. She said the three were close friends who'd met at church - and that Luke Gullberg had "died as he lived, passionately giving his all."

"These three have summitted Mount Adams, summitted Mount Baker ... they are some of the strongest individuals I've ever met," she said.

Gullberg's camera was found by rescuers on Saturday who said there were close-up photos of the three climbers, all smiling and having a good time. Rescuers said the images helped them narrow the search area. The photos also showed the group had standard mountaineering gear including helmets and ropes.

 Video archive: Search effort on Mt. Hood

Climbers had cell phone, no beacon

The three climbers did have a cell phone that was briefly activated about 1:30 a.m. Friday as they were leaving Timberline Lodge to begin their ascent, Strovink said. None of the climbers were carrying locator beacons or anything that would provide a signal with which to pinpoint their location, Strovink said.

Steve Rollins of Portland Mountain Rescue told KGW that a locator beacon would not have helped searchers in this case.

He added that the Search and Rescue community in Oregon unanimously opposes mandating that climbers carry beacons, and that "the public tends to take increased risks when they carry devices such as beacons because they feel they will be rescued if they carry one." 

"That increases the risks to rescuers," he said. Rollins also noted that climbers preparing for technical routes scrutinize each piece of equipment they carry, given the likelihood of needing it versus the added pack weight, and that a strong argument can be made both for carrying a beacon and leaving it behind.

Deceased climber was officer's son

Luke Gullberg was the son of Washington State Patrol Ret. Sgt Rod Gullberg, who is a current civilian research analyst with the WSP

Luke Gullberg's Myspace site includes a blog with photographs of past climbs. He lists the Bible first as his favorite book and his heroes are his parents. His favorite Bible passage is Proverbs 4:23. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."

Saturday, WSP leaders issued a statement, saying "Chief Batiste and all the members of the Washington State patrol send our deepest condolences to the Gullberg family. We know that Rod and Luke were close as father and son, and as climbing partners. Words cannot express the sorrow we feel this evening."

 

Mt. Hood popular, but deadly

Mount Hood, the tallest mountain in Oregon, is a popular destination for climbers in the United States. In 25 years, it has been the site of dozens of climbing accidents and fatalities. The worst on record happened in May 1986 when nine people -- seven students from Oregon Episcopal School and two adults -- died after they dug a snow cave during a sudden storm.

The latest search comes almost exactly three years after another trio of experienced climbers died on Mount Hood during a December 2006 blizzard.  The family of Kelly James, who was the only person in that climbing trio whose body was ever found, clung to their faith to get through the tragedy.

MORE: History of fatalities on Mount Hood

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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