Rescuers find one Shasta climber

One of two climbers stranded on Mount Shasta over the weekend made his way down the mountain Monday afternoon, leaving his unresponsive companion in a snow cave near the summit, the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office reported.

Mark Thomas, 26, of Berkeley, Calif., was in good condition with some frostbite when rangers on snowmobiles found him at about 4 p.m. Monday, sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said. He was taken to a base camp searchers had set up on Military Pass Road, but declined medical help.

He provided authorities information about the location of his climbing companion, Thomas Bennett, a 26-year-old Oakland, Calif., resident who recently had moved from Vancouver, British Columbia.

Searchers planned to re-evaluate weather conditions this morning to determine when a recovery team can be sent up the mountain for Bennett.

Thomas had called 9-1-1 at about 9 a.m. on Sunday to report that Bennett had become ill near the summit of Mount Shasta at an elevation of about 14,050 feet, Gravenkamp said.

Thomas told a dispatcher that he and Bennett were near the Whitney Bolam Ridge on the north side of the mountain. He said Bennett was confused, disoriented and losing his coordination and balance because of altitude sickness.

They had spent the night on the mountain, taking shelter by some rocks, but strong winds made it too dangerous for them to descend, he said.

Thomas reported they had about a liter of water, some candy bars and granola with them. He provided both climbers' cell phone numbers, and the call was brief to conserve the cell phone batteries.

The sheriff's office search-and-rescue team and the U.S. Forest Service were alerted. The Forest Service said the men did not fill out a wilderness permit.

Friends reported that Thomas was an experienced climber who had scaled Shasta before, but this was the first time he had attempted a more technical route on the north side.

On Sunday, unsafe weather conditions prevented ground crews from climbing the mountain, Gravenkamp said in a news release on Monday. Winds, which the National Weather Service reported hit 55 mph, prevented any type of helicopter search for the two men.

Return calls to the cell phone numbers left by Thomas were not answered Sunday. At about 3:50 p.m. Sunday, he called the sheriff's office dispatch again and said that their Subaru was parked at the Whitney Glacier Trailhead and that his partner was seriously ill.

Sheriff's deputies and Forest Service personnel searched the roads and trailheads on the north side of the mountain and found Bennett's Subaru at 6:40 p.m. about 4.5 miles in from Highway 97 on Military Pass Road.

The weather prevented any type of rescue efforts late on Sunday.

Two Forest Service mountain rangers on snowmobiles headed up Mount Shasta Monday. They tried to ski into the wilderness, but were thwarted by heavy winds, Gravenkamp said.

A wind advisory was effect on the mountain Monday, warning of 35 mph winds with gusts to 55 mph.

Thomas called authorities again Monday afternoon to report he was coming down the mountain. He said then that he was at the treeline at an elevation of about 7,000 feet and he had a map and compass to guide him.

Rangers spotted his footprints and tracked him down, bringing him to safety at the searchers' camp, which was shut down soon after he was located.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail

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