Search to resume Saturday for climber missing near Mount Rainier summit

Friday, July 2, 2010

Climber missing near Mount Rainier summit

ASHFORD, Wash. — A day of searching for a 57-year-old climber who unclipped his rope and vanished near Mount Rainier’s summit has ended without locating the man, a National Park Service spokeswoman said Friday night.

The search for Eric Lewis of Duvall, Wash., involved teams of Park Service climbing rangers and commercial mountain guides combing the upper reaches of the 14,410-foot peak, Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Lee Taylor said.

The search will resume Saturday, she said.

Two helicopters — one from Fort Lewis and another from a private company — flew for several hours Friday when weather permitted. The weather was overcast with a heavy cloud layer at 8,000 feet for much of the day.

Lewis and two climbing partners were ascending near the 14,000-foot level Thursday afternoon in low visibility with Lewis last on the rope line. When the first two climbers stopped to rest, they discovered Lewis had unclipped from the rope and was nowhere to be seen, Taylor said.

“There’s crevasses all over that part of the mountain,” she said.

The two climbers searched the nearby area but could not find Lewis. They contacted rangers at Camp Muir, at about the 10,000-foot level, who began a search that was expanded Friday.

Searchers located Lewis’ backpack and shovel Friday morning at 13,600 feet and a snow cave where Taylor said he may have sought shelter at 13,800 feet.

Crews don’t know what happened to Lewis but speculate he might have dug a snow cave to get some rest after becoming separated from his companions, and that when he started his descent, he dropped his backpack, climbing harness and shovel to lighten his load, Taylor said.

“We have a dozen skilled climbers on the mountain and at least 20 others providing other types of support. We’re doing everything we can to find him and get him down safely,” search Incident Commander Glenn Kessler said earlier Friday.

Lewis was climbing with Trevor Lane and Don Storms. Their ages and hometowns were not immediately available.

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