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Wednesday, December 5, 2007 - Page updated at 12:01 PM

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Avalanche claims 2 hikers, injures 1 north of Alpental

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two hikers were killed and a third was injured when they were trapped in an avalanche in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness north of Snoqualmie Pass.

The bodies of a 33-year-old woman and a 38-year-old man were recovered Tuesday near Snow Lake, said John Urquhart, spokesman for the King County Sheriff's Office. The woman's husband, 38, suffered a broken leg in the avalanche and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, he said.

Their identities and hometowns were not released Tuesday.

The deaths are the first due to an avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass since a 28-year-old North Bend man died in January 2005.

The three hikers left for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area Friday night and planned to return home Sunday, Urquhart said.

When the group failed to return on time, the father of one of the hikers drove to the area Monday and found their vehicle in the parking lot near the Alpental ski area. He then contacted authorities.

Searchers tried to find the group Monday, but their helicopters were grounded because of bad weather, Urquhart said. The helicopters were able to launch a search Tuesday.

It wasn't immediately known when the avalanche hit the group.

Acting Snoqualmie District Ranger Sonny Paz said conditions near Snow Lake this time of year make it potentially dangerous for hiking. Snow Lake is in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

"I have heard it can be pretty dangerous," Paz said. "There are avalanches, and you are hiking over snow but not on a firm trail."

Paz said Snow Lake is extremely popular in the summertime and said people might head there in the winter to see the gorgeous scenery and avoid the crowds.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center had avalanche warnings in place for the Cascades on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Danger levels were raised to "extreme" Sunday and Monday for elevations above 4,000 feet, said Johnny Burg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

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The elevation at Snow Lake varies from 3,100 feet to 4,100 feet, according to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Web site.

In Pierce County, Sheriff's Office rescue crews were trying to find three missing snowboarders from the Seattle area who went backcountry snowboarding Friday. The three men, two in their 20s and one in his 30s, were expected back Sunday at 10 p.m. but hadn't been heard from.

The Sheriff's Office began its search early Monday, but due to avalanches, white-out conditions and floods, the search has been limited. A plane was dispatched to search the area Tuesday, but there was no sign of the snowboarders.

The men are reported to be carrying an avalanche beacon with them, but the beacon is good for only about 50 yards.

Searchers on Tuesday located another group of hikers who went hiking near the Denny Creek trailhead on Sunday and apparently encountered trouble, Urquhart said. He said the group of three men and a woman, ranging in age from 22 to 55, used a cellphone to call for help on Sunday.

The group hiked out Tuesday after searchers brought them snowshoes. Urquhart said the hikers were tired but not hurt.

Urquhart said the heavy snow followed by pounding rain created perilous conditions for the two groups of hikers.

"We had some serious, serious snow out there," he said. "Then the rain came through there and it made the conditions extreme."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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