GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. -- Time was running short Tuesday in the search for two missing climbers on Mount Hood, as heavy snow grounded a search helicopter and prevented ground crews from leaving camp.
The climbers -- Anthony Vietti and Katie Nolan -- were believed to have ice axes that could be used to hack out a snow cave, rescuers said.
But the storm that hit the mountain late Monday was expected to dump up to two feet of new snow on the slopes, raising the risk of an avalanche that could further complicate the rescue effort.
"It doesn't look good," Jim Strovink, spokesman for the search and rescue operation, said about the forecast. "This could hang on for a couple of days."
Searchers found the body of the climbers' companion, Luke Gullberg, on Saturday at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. An autopsy showed he suffered minor injuries in a fall and died of hypothermia as overnight lows on the mountain dipped into the teens.
Gullberg, 26, of Des Moines, Wash., was found without his pack or the ropes that had apparently bound the group together at some point.
The discovery raised hope among family members that Vietti, 24, of Longview, Wash., and Nolan, 29, of Portland were carrying Gullberg's safety equipment and supplies after he headed down the mountain for help.
An expert in hypothermia and mountain survival planned to speak Tuesday to the families gathered at Timberline Lodge.
Intermittent snow and subfreezing temperatures have hampered the search since it began. The latest storm was expected to remain until Thursday.
Rescuers still consider their work a search and rescue mission rather than a recovery operation.
Steve Rollins, a search leader, said rescuers were hopeful the two climbers had dug a snow cave to shelter them from the storm.
"We are still being very optimistic," Rollins said. "I've been in plenty of snow caves in complete blizzards. You don't know what the weather is like outside."
On Monday, searchers got an unexpected break in the weather and dispatched a helicopter to search for signs of Vietti and Nolan.
"I couldn't have hoped for better weather conditions," said Monty Smith, a mountain climber in the chopper that was finally able to survey the heights of the 11,249-foot peak.
However, there was "no sign at all" of the missing climbers, he said.
Rollins said the climbers had ice axes that could be used to dig 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.
Experts with Portland Mountain Rescue said the equipment found with Gullberg's body didn't point strongly to what might have gone wrong on the climb that was supposed to reach the summit and return in a single day.
Other items found with Gullberg included a water bottle and glove believed to have belonged to Nolan, said Deputy Scott Meyers, commander of the search and rescue operation.
Photos from Gullberg's camera showed the group had helmets and other standard mountaineering gear. Officials previously said they did not have a shovel.
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 said.
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.