- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

HOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — Two climbers missing on Mount Hood might have fallen on a steep slope on their way down Oregon’s highest mountain, authorities said yesterday as a team prepared to retrieve the body of a third climber found dead in a snow cave.

Air crews will survey the area because avalanche conditions make it unsafe for ground crews to head through a treacherous side of the mountain known as “the gullies,” where climbers have fallen in the past, said Sheriff Joe Wampler.

The body of Kelly James, 48, of Dallas was found in one of two snow caves that the climbers hacked into the side of the mountain. Searchers found the cave Sunday near the area located by signals from the cell phone Mr. James used to place a four-minute distress call to relatives a little more than a week ago.

His brother, Frank James, told reporters that a ring found on the body confirmed the identity.

“This is a difficult day for all three families,” he said, choking back tears. “I feel that I have two other brothers still on the mountain.”

Kelly James and his two colleagues are thought to have climbed the north face of Mount Hood and reached the 11,239-foot summit late in the day on Friday, and then tried to descend the gentler south face, passing through a rock-and-ice formation known as “the Pearly Gates,” Sheriff Wampler said.

“They didn’t find it,” he said.

Brian Hall, 37, also of Dallas, and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, 36, of New York City, then backtracked about 300 feet down the side they had ascended, Sheriff Wampler said.

“They dug a cave that probably housed all three of them Friday night,” the sheriff said. Saturday morning, two of the climbers left the caves trying to descend a precipice lying between the Elliott Glacier and a ridge called Cooper Spur.

“Now the weather was getting really bad,” he said.

Searchers found ropes and anchors that they think the climbers used to cling to the side of the mountain during high winds. Gusts of up to 100 mph were reported during a storm that hit the area over the weekend that the climbers disappeared.

Authorities hope a medical examination of Mr. James’ body would help in the search or explain what happened to the expedition, Sheriff Wampler said.

Family members had relied on intense religious faith along with confidence that the trio’s extensive mountaineering experience would save them from a week of blizzards and single-digit temperatures that hampered search teams on the mountain and in aircraft.

Mr. James had told his family that his climbing party was in trouble and that Mr. Hall and Mr. Cooke had headed back down, apparently for help. Mr. James may have been injured.

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