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Published: Monday, 2/19/2007

Climbers leave Mount Hood; rescuer credits black Lab with saving their lives


GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. Three climbers who tumbled off a ledge on Mount Hood were taken away in an ambulance after they hiked down much the state s highest peak with their rescuers and a dog who may have saved their lives.

We re soaking wet and freezing, said one of two rescued women as she walked from a tracked snow vehicle to an ambulance. Authorities have not released their names, and it was unclear where the ambulance was taking them.

Rescuers using an electronic locating device found the three climbers and their black Labrador, Velvet, in the White River Canyon this morning, where they had holed up overnight at about 7,400 feet, officials said.

The crew then hiked down the 11,239-foot mountain, Oregon s highest, with the climbers. Lower down, they climbed aboard the vehicle.

Two of three climbers stranded since Sunday on Mount Hood arrive at White River snow park near Government Camp, Ore. Two of three climbers stranded since Sunday on Mount Hood arrive at White River snow park near Government Camp, Ore.

The dog probably saved their lives by lying across them during the cold night, said Erik Brom, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team. He described the wind in the canyon as hellacious.

Rescuers had talked to the climbers by cell phone and tracked their mountain locator unit before reaching them at 10:47 a.m. PST.

The most important part of this rescue is that they did everything right, Lt. Nick Watt of the Clackamas County Sheriff s Office said in a news conference.

The climbers spent the night huddled in two sleeping bags and a tarp in the canyon.

Rescue teams battled winds up to 70 mph and blowing snow trying to locate the three climbers. The teams made it close to the climbers overnight but decided to wait until daylight Monday because they could not see anything, said Russell Gubele, coordinating communications for the rescue operation.

The three climbers were members of an eight-person party that set out on Saturday, camped on the mountain that night, and had started back down on Sunday when they ran into bad weather, officials said.

As they were descending, the three slipped off a ledge at about 8,300 feet.

Someone in the party used a cell phone to place an emergency call to authorities.

My understanding is that they are experienced rock climbers, but not necessarily experienced in mountain climbing, Gubele said.

The five other members of the their climbing party were rescued Sunday and taken down to Timberline Lodge, a ski resort at the 6,000-foot level of Mount Hood, and all are reported in good condition, the sheriff s office said in an e-mail.

Watt said the trio s use of a locating device may have saved them from a worse fate.

That s why it is a rescue, not a recovery, Watt said, alluding to three climbers who went missing on Mount Hood in December.

Then, search teams scoured Mount Hood for days in the hopes of finding a group of missing climbers alive. The bodies of Brian Hall, of Dallas, and Jerry Nikko Cooke, of New York, have not been found. Another climber in their group, Kelly James, of Dallas, died of hypothermia.

In the past 25 years, more than 35 climbers have died on the mountain, one of the most frequently climbed in the world.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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