A pair of climbers stuck on Mt. Shasta over the weekend by strong winds and storm clouds are making their way down the mountain.
Mark Thomas, 26, of Berkeley called the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office about 2:30 p.m. today to report that he and his climbing partner, Thomas Bennett, 26, of Oakland, were coming down the volcano and had made it down to 7,000 feet, said Susan Gravenkamp, sheriff’s spokeswoman.
Thomas told the dispatcher he has a map and a compass with him.
Two U.S. Forest Service climbing rangers on snowmobiles who had been searching for the climbers are now combing the tree line at 7,000 feet, Gravenkamp said this afternoon. Deputies also set up a rescue base station along Military Pass Road off of Highway 97.
Thomas initially called 911 at 9:04 a.m. Sunday to report that he and Bennett were near the 14,179-foot volcano’s summit. Thomas said Bennett was suffering from altitude sickness and ataxia, a lack of coordination and balance, Gravenkamp said.
At the time, Thomas said they were on a ridge on the north side of the mountain.
They’d taken shelter over Saturday night behind some rocks because high winds prevented them from descending, Gravenkamp said.
The high winds, clocked at 55 mph by the National Weather Service Sunday, also kept rescuers from starting a climb up the mountain and helicopters grounded, she said.
The weather limited the rescue effort to the two climbing Rangers, who set out this morning on snowmobiles to gauge whether they should try to climb the mountain, Gravenkamp said.
“The winds are still howling,” she said early this afternoon.
It appears the climbers were using the Hotlam-Bolam route, which goes between a pair of Mt. Shasta’s glaciers.
“It is one of the harder routes to take,” she said.
One Thomas’s friends contacted the Sheriff’s office and told deputies that Thomas is an experienced climber who was topped Mt. Shasta a number of times, although this was his first attempt on the Hotlam-Bolam route.
Thomas told a dispatcher the men had about a liter of water, some candy bars and some granola with them.
Thomas again called sheriff’s dispatch about 3:50 p.m. Sunday, Gravenkamp said. He told the dispatcher that the men had left a Subaru parked at the Whitney Glacier Trailhead, which is about five miles from Highway 97 on Military Pass Road.
He again said Bennett was seriously ill. Gravenkamp said Thomas kept conversations brief to conserve cell phone batteries and Sunday afternoon was the last time rescuers talked to him.
Sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Forest Service workers found the men’s car, which is registered to Bennett, at the trailhead about 6:40 p.m. Sunday, she said.
The men did not fill out a wilderness permit and didn’t heed warnings posted by the U.S. Forest Service online and on message machine that answers a hotline that a storm was coming and it was best to stay off Mt. Shasta over the weekend.
“It was just a hard time to be climbing a mountain,” she said.
About 8,000 people climb Mt. Shasta, an hour’s drive north of Redding, each year, said Rita Vollmer, spokeswoman for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
When climbing in springtime, she said, it is crucial for climbers to check weather forecasts before headed up the mountain, and be prepared for sudden changes in weather.
“This time of year it can from gorgeous to serious in minutes,” Vollmer said.
The high temperature today at 14,000 feet on the mountain should reach 21 degrees today, said Megan Woodhead, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Medford office. The Weather Service’s forecast calls for the low to drop to 10 degrees tonight as a storm system continues to bring wintry weather.
“It looks like snow pretty much now through Wednesday,” Woodhead said this afternoon.
Looks OK for them....