Weather halts recovery of man's body on Mt. Hood

PORTLAND — The body of a Canadian climber who vanished when foul weather enveloped his party and then fell to his death remained Wednesday on Mount Hood as recovery teams turned back in the face of snow, wind and poor visibility.

Authorities said Robert Wiebe, 58, of Langley, British Columbia, died Tuesday afternoon before a rescue helicopter could reach him. Wiebe disappeared at about 9,500 feet as the party of five climbers negotiated a feature called the Snow Dome, said Detective Matt English of the Hood River County sheriff's office.

Attempts by recovery teams to ascend Coe Glacier on the north side of the mountain were thwarted by freezing temperatures, snow and wind gusts between 20 mph to 25 mph on Wednesday afternoon. The recovery attempt may resume Thursday, when the wind was expected to die down and chances for precipitation would be lower.

English said members of Wiebe's climbing party weren't roped up and were 40 to 50 yards apart when the weather "just descended very quickly on them."

After fellow climbers looked around and didn't see Wiebe, they figured that he had fallen, reached him and put in a call for help. Wiebe died before a helicopter could get there, English said.

English said he didn't know how far Wiebe had fallen. The climber was described as experienced. Two members of the local search and rescue team, the Crag Rats, were in the party, along with climbers from France and Italy, English said. He declined to identify them.

Recent spring storms have made conditions difficult for mountaineers in the Northwest. An Olympia, Wash., climber was swept up in an avalanche June 5 on Mount Rainier and presumed to have died. A Northwest avalanche monitoring service warned last weekend about dangerous conditions above 8,000 feet.

For most years, late spring is a good time to try for the summit of Mount Hood, at 11,239 feet, because the ice is still clutching the large rocks that later in the summer can come rumbling downhill and jeopardize climbers.

A leader of a search and rescue organization said climbs on the north side are steeper and more remote than popular south-side ascents, and therefore more appealing.

"The north side of the mountain is just beautiful," said Scott Norton, president of Portland Mountain Rescue.

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