An exhausted group of climbers was sent home on Saturday night after their five-day sweep of Mt. Hood failed to turn up any trace of a lost hiker.
"The search and rescue people were very diligent about their mission but our decision was based on the fact that they had done all they could do in the survivable areas," said Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler.
He said about 200 experienced mountaineers volunteered their time from dawn on Tuesday to about 9 p.m. on Saturday. These individuals represented numerous regional search teams who offered to help comb the slopes from Laurance Lake to Mt. Hood Meadows in a quest to find Karoly Orsi, 24, of Budapest, Hungary. Orsi, who had arrived in the United States three weeks before on an agricultural exchange program, was reported missing late Monday evening.
He had parted from his colleagues at Tilly Jane Campground about 6 a.m. that morning for what was to have been a 12-hour exploration of the northeastern wilderness area. At the time of his departure he was dressed only in blue jeans and a black T-shirt, but it is believed he was carrying a raincoat and a small amount of food and water in his daypack. He did not disclose to his fellow campers the direction he intended to take nor did he register at any of the trailheads in the vicinity.
"It is important for inexperienced people not to go up the mountain alone," said Wampler.
According to the sheriff, Orsi's family members claimed that he had always had a strong fascination with mountain climbing, snow and ice. Law enforcement officials believe that the young horticulturist may have hiked up to Cooper Spur Ridge and then, because of good weather conditions, ascended into the glacial area near the summit. Because that rugged terrain is crisscrossed with deep crevasses and steep cliffs, Wampler said Orsi may have fallen into a ravine and been unable to climb out because he was too badly injured or unable to navigate the vertical incline.
When the weather took a turn for the worse on both Tuesday and Wednesday, Wampler said the cold temperatures would have "drastically reduced" Orsi's chances of survival. Because ground searchers knew Orsi wasn't dressed for the howling winds and mixed snow/rain, they braved the elements to go as far up the mountain as safety allowed.
On Wednesday night the 304 Airforce Reserve Rescue Squadron from Portland used infrared sensors for a night scan of the mountainside but were unable to pinpoint the missing man.
On Saturday, which dawned clear and sunny, searchers mounted a last full-scale effort that included canine units and a return of surveillance aircraft.
"We looked in all the places he would most likely go, the places he might have gone and then the ones we thought he absolutely wouldn't go to," said Wampler.
He said Orsi's missing person report has now been filed in law enforcement data banks and hikers on Mt. Hood are being asked to watch for any sign that he passed in the same direction. The sheriff's department is still following up on leads they have received from all sides of the mountain.
Wampler said it is against state law for climbers to hike beyond the timberline without a communication device, such as a handheld radio or a cell phone. He said because of its elevation, the mountain frequently "makes its own weather" and all adventurers need to have the necessary emergency supplies to spend a night outdoors, even if they only intend to take a short hike.