The US Forest Service and personnel from the Mount Shasta Ranger’s Station are currently conducting a search for two climbers who have been stranded on the slopes of Mt. Shasta since Saturday, March 27.
At about 9 a.m. on Sunday, March 28, the Sheriff’s Office received a 911 cell phone call from Mark Thomas, age 26 of Berkeley, California, reporting that he and his climbing partner, Thomas Bennett, also 26, of Oakland, were near the summit of Mt. Shasta at an elevation of about 14,050 feet.
Thomas said he thought they were near the Whitney Bolam Ridge on the north side of the mountain, said Susan Gravenkamp, spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department.
Thomas said Bennett was experiencing altitude sickness, suffering from ataxia (lack of coordination and balance) and was confused and disoriented. Thomas also said the wind was so strong that it was too dangerous for them to descend and they had spent Saturday night on the mountain, taking shelter by some rocks.
The two climbers had about a liter of water, some candy bars and some granola with them, Thomas continued. He then provided two cell phone numbers; the call was brief in order to conserve the cell phone batteries.
The Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team was alerted as well as the Forest Service in Mount Shasta.
Due to the weather conditions on Sunday, it was not safe for any ground crews to start climbing the mountain, and high winds reported at 55 mph by the National Weather Service prevented any type of helicopter search for the two men.
Return calls to the numbers left by Thomas were not answered.
At about 4 p.m. Thomas once again called Sheriff’s Office Dispatch and that their Subaru was parked at the Whitney Glacier Trailhead and that his partner was seriously ill.
Sheriff’s Deputies and Forest Service personnel searched the roads and trailheads on the north side of the mountain and about 6:40 p.m., the Forest Service found the climber’s vehicle, a Subaru registered to Bennett, about 4.5 miles in from Highway 97 on Military Pass Road.
The weather still prevented any type of rescue efforts late on Sunday.
This morning, two very experienced Forest Service Mountain Rangers on snowmobiles are in the area in an attempt to determine if a rescue is possible with the current snow and weather conditions.
Today around 2 p.m.Thomas called the Sheriff's Department on his cell phone and is currently coming down the mountain at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. He has a map and a compass with him, Gravenkamp said.
Thomas reported that his climbing partner was not doing well and he made the decision it would be best to try to make his way down the mountain today. The two Forest Service Mountain Rangers are on snowmobiles and will continue searching at the 7,000-foot elevation for Thomas.
A friend of Thomas has been in contact with the Sheriff’s Office and reports that he is an experienced climber who has climbed Mount Shasta a number of times, however, the was the first time he climbed the more technical north side Hotlum/Bolam Route, Gravenkamp said.
A base station has been established along Military Pass Road off of Highway 97. The Forest Service said that the men did not fill out a wilderness permit.