Photos found with the body of a climber on Mount Hood showed supplies only for a quick climb, increasing worries about whether his two missing companions could survive more than a week in the brutal environment, authorities said Tuesday.
Hopes of finding them alive dimmed after officials developed film in a disposable camera found in Kelly James' pocket. The pictures, taken as the men began their ascent, show the three had enough gear and provisions for a quick climb up Mount Hood but not for a longer period out in the elements.
The photos show "three happy guys putting their stuff out there," Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler said. But "looking what they had with them, I'm pretty concerned about how long somebody can last out there."
The sheriff said two airplanes were patrolling a small rugged section of the mountain, and he was preparing an avalanche search experts to probe the snow with long poles in hopes that the missing climbers may be hunkered down in a snow cave.
Wampler said he was hoping the climbers would "stick their heads up out of their hole and rescue themselves. We want to be there to see that, if that happens."
In what he said was his last news conference on the search, Wampler said that rescue teams had scaled back the ground search and are asking themselves whether they are "spinning their wheels" by continuing the search for Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke.
"The big search is over," he said.
Rescue teams have narrowed the search to a ridge and glacier on the dangerous north side of Oregon's highest peak, but search directors say it has had up to 10 feet of snow since the three men were reported missing on Dec. 10.
Authorities said the photos were developed from a camera found with James, whose body was retrieved from a snow cave near the 11,239-foot peak on Monday.
James, 48, of Dallas, who had a dislocated shoulder, made a cell phone call from his cave on Dec. 10, telling his family the party was in trouble and the others had gone for help.
"I think an injury threw that schedule all off and left them in a position of 'now what are we going to do' and desperation," Wampler said.
He also said that footprints found near the summit may indicate that one climber was attempting to help another.
The sheriff said the other climbers must have had to dig a second shallower cave of their own on a steep slope as the weather worsened.
The place below the second cave is called "the gullies," with a 60-degree slope and a treacherous 2,500-foot drop-off. About 13 climbers have died in the area in the past 40 years, Wampler said.
Wampler said the search for Hall, 37, also of Dallas, and Cooke, 36, of New York City, will continue for now as a rescue effort, not a recovery operation.