NEAR MOUNT HOOD, Ore. – Three people who got lost while snowshoeing since Saturday were brought back to safety by rescuers Monday afternoon and were reunited with family members.
Search and Rescue teams were activated Sunday afternoon after Mark Kelsey, an experienced mountaineer, Margarita Estrada and Deborah Shindler got lost and spent the night in cold conditions on Mount Hood.
Just after 10:30 a.m. Monday, the snowshoers were all found safe. Search team members then spent most of the day leading them off the mountain and back to the White River West Sno Park on Highway 35 where they started their excursion. They arrived at the snow park at about 3:30 p.m.
The Hood River County Sheriff's Office initially said the group planned on camping overnight and were equipped with sleeping bags and food. But later it was learned the group did not have any sleeping bags and very little food.
The trio initially called for help Sunday afternoon while trying to reach a "rustic cabin," according to Russell Gubele with Mountain Wave Search and Rescue.
A GPS device the group carried indicated several trails to the cabin, but the one they took had been washed out when the White River flooded. The three then hiked for about 20 hours looking for the trail but were unsuccessful. They decided to call for help, getting in touch with a 911 dispatcher, and rescuers were able to pin down their location after their GPS device was able to send out a brief signal.
With the help of Kelsey's experience, the group built a snow cave for protection against the elements.
"(We) tried to sleep. We had nothing to sleep on," said Estrada. "Thank God we had Mark – we built a snow cave and tried to sleep, but couldn't sleep. And so these guys (the rescuers) saved us."
Family members said the three are good friends and the hike to the cabin was to celebrate Estrada's birthday.
Mountain Wave's search and rescue teams looked for the hikers from about 1 p.m. until dark without success on Sunday. Searchers had to turn back due to bad weather, Gubele said.
Monday morning brought excellent conditions for searchers, with sun and clear skies. Deputies said the team of about 20 searchers used two snocats to check for the hikers.
Steve Rollins with Portland Mountain Rescue said Kelsey, who is in his 60s, has solo-climbed 20,320-foot tall Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, in Alaska in the past and is very experienced.
"If you had asked me before they got lost who I’d rather they’d be lost with, it’d be Mark Kelsey," Andy Ozeroff, Estrada’s son said. "And every single one of them’s experienced climbers in terms of wilderness survival."
The three were cold and tired but otherwise were OK. They were checked out by medics and were released to return their homes in the Portland area.
Clackamas County, Mountain Wave and Portland Mountain Rescue assisted Hood River County and the Crag Rats in the search.