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Originally published May 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 15, 2007 at 2:00 AM

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Stranded Mount Hood climbers were ill-prepared, rescuers say

Volunteers who helped rescue five men from Mount Hood over the weekend said the climbers were well-equipped, but ill-prepared to tackle whiteout conditions.

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. – Volunteers who helped rescue five men from Mount Hood over the weekend said the climbers were well-equipped, but ill-prepared to tackle whiteout conditions.

"These guys had the correct equipment — maps, compass, altimeter, cell phone, mountain locator unit," said rescuer Steve Rollins.

But not all of them knew how to use the equipment, and the climbers were also unfamiliar with the mountain's geographic features, he said.

"The real problem here is people not appreciating the strength of storms on Mount Hood," Rollins said.

The climbers, who used a cell phone to call for help Saturday night, were identified as Brian Anderson, 24, of Portland; Ben Elkind, 22, of Lake Oswego; Bryce Benge, 29, of Lake Oswego; Jeremiah West, 28, of Portland; and Brian Weihs, 39, of Hillsboro. All were in good condition when they reached Timberline Lodge just before midnight, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said.

Mount Hood has been the site of several high-profile rescues in the past six months. In February, three climbers and a dog fell from a ledge, but were rescued after a cold night. In December, one climber was killed and two are missing and presumed dead after climbing the mountain's more dangerous north side.

The latest rescue operation began Saturday after five climbers found themselves in a whiteout at about 9,400 feet on the 11,239-foot mountain.

Elkind's mother called 911 at 5:23 p.m., according to a transcript of the call. She said her son was among five climbers who had left Timberline Lodge at 2 a.m. and planned to be back down the mountain by noon.

Rescuers then established cell phone contact with the climbers.

Ben Elkind told The AP the climbing party had never asked for an "immediate rescue." He said their plan was to dig a snow cave and huddle in it during the whiteout.

Plans changed when rescuers were able to help orient the climbers.

Rocky Henderson, a Portland Mountain Rescue volunteer, helped them use their GPS tracking tools to find their way.

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"They were not real certain" where exactly they were on the mountain, Henderson said.

"They had given their coordinates to 911," Henderson said. "Based on their description (of their location), and my map plotting, we figured out where they were."

Henderson said he told the climbers to put the coordinates for Illumination Saddle into their Global Positioning System. Then he told them to "get up and go" to the saddle, a prominent geographical formation on Mount Hood.

Henderson said the strategy was for rescuers who were on their way to track the climbers down by following signals from their Mountain Locator Unit.

But the climbers ended up walking down on their own. After reaching Illumination Saddle, they used a map and a compass to hike to Timberline Lodge, Elkind said.

Elkind is taking some offense that his mountaineering skills have been questioned.

Still, he said he appreciates the rescuers' efforts.

"It was good to know they were there," he said.

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