TIM FOUGHT, Associated Press Writer
GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. (AP) " After three days of searching the flanks of Mount Hood for two missing climbers, officials were assessing what to do next as a winter storm barreled toward Oregon's largest peak.
A third climber, 26-year-old Luke T. Gullberg, was found dead over the weekend, and rescuers are still hoping his two companions " Anthony Vietti and Katie Nolan " can be found alive. But the weather is not working in the search parties' favor.
"Everybody's on standby," said Jim Strovink, spokesman for the search and rescue operation, as night fell Monday. "We're going to reassess in the morning."
The search plans have varied almost by the hour, depending on Mount Hood's mercurial weather conditions.
On Monday before daylight, Strovink said ground and air searches were unlikely, but within hours, the clouds lifted and gave searchers a good view of the areas where family members hope that Vietti, 24, and Nolan, 29, dug a snow cave for shelter after a climb that somehow went wrong.
"I couldn't have hoped for better weather conditions," said Monty Smith, a mountain climber who was in a military helicopter that rose above the summit of the mountain to examine high altitudes that searchers hadn't been able to see or reach over the weekend.
But, he said, there was "no sign at all."
Gullberg, of Des Moines, Wash., died of exposure, an autopsy showed. His body was found Saturday at about 9,000 feet.
The autopsy showed Gullberg suffered minor injuries but died of hypothermia, said Jim Strovink, spokesman for the Clackamas County sheriff's office.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that the medical examiner's office said Gullberg survived a "long, slow" fall.
"He had minor trauma but nothing lethal," Dr. Chris Young of the state medical examiner's office told the newspaper.
Rescuers said that after the fall, Gullberg was able to walk and crawl several hundred yards before he died, the newspaper reported.
Strovink on Monday confirmed that tracks had been found around Gullberg's body. But he said he hadn't been told that Gullberg was able to walk and crawl any great distance.
For much of the time since they were reported overdue Friday, bad weather has hampered the search for Vietti, of Longview, Wash., and Nolan, of Portland.
Overnight temperatures have dipped into the teens with moderate winds and intermittent snow.
On Monday, searchers said they felt the urgency of the forecast for a storm expected to bring 10 to 12 inches of snow. At dusk, the snow started and fell steadily and heavily into the evening.
"Winds should be fairly mild," said Liana Ramirez, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Portland. "We may have some strong gusts overnight, but mostly on ridges and exposed areas."
Teri Preiss, an aunt of Vietti, said on Monday she believes her nephew and Nolan were strong enough to survive somewhere on the 11,249-foot mountain.
Steve Rollins, a search leader, said the climbers had ice axes that could be used to hack out a snow cave.
"It's more like digging with a spoon than a shovel, but if your life is in danger, you can do wonderful things," Rollins said.
Photos from Gullberg's camera also showed the group had standard mountaineering gear such as helmets and ropes. Officials previously said the climbers did not have shovels.
Gullberg's body was found on a flat area near the base of a headwall rising at a 50-degree angle to an elevation of 10,500 feet, Rollins told the AP.
Other photos showed the trio had been roped together at some point, but rescuers found no rope with Gullberg's body.
"That's a big part of the mystery. Where's the rope? Why wasn't the group together," Rollins said.
Using ropes at a particular point of a climb is a decision climbers make depending on their confidence, ability and terrain, Rollins said, adding that roping slows climbers.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.