Rescue efforts end on mountain

Published June 18, 2005

Searchers believe a lost climber is at the top of Mount McLoughlin, but they have given up trying to get to him.

Daunted by snow, wind and cold Friday, searchers assumed that John Vincent Zazzara, 54, of Beaverton, is dead. He's been missing since Sunday.

"This effort is no longer a rescue effort," Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said. "It's a recovery effort. ... The probability of survival is low."

He said there are no plans to resume the search until the weather improves, perhaps early next week.

Zazzara is believed to have gone to the summit alone for a rock climb, but rescuers couldn't get there, or see it from aircraft.

The volcanic peak is 9,495 feet tall. At 7,500 feet, searchers were "literally about to get blown off the mountain," Evinger said.

At about nightfall Friday, a U.S. Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter from Pendleton abandoned its efforts.

Evidence in Zazzara's car and reports from his friends suggested he went off the main trail to the summit to attempt a tricky climb up a backward-sloping cliff, Evinger said.

"His hiking stuff is in his car, the technical stuff is gone," the sheriff said.

Friends told authorities that Zazzara is an experienced climber who could handle technical routes. Climbers call routes that require ropes and other gear "technical" to distinguish them from easier hikes.

Zazzara was described as a quick climber who goes light, with minimal equipment.

"He does it in less than half the time of most people," Evinger said. "He doesn't take much with him - it is just up and back."

Friends said Zazzara liked climbing McLoughlin and nearby Mount Thielsen.

They recalled that he was interested in a cliff near the top of McLoughlin, but hadn't left behind specific information about this trip, Evinger said.

Searchers spent most of Friday battling the weather. A low pressure system brought in snow and wind. Temperatures dropped into the 30s and then the 20s.

On the ground, more than 30 searchers, afoot, riding horses and using dogs, combed the woods below the mountain's timberline. Personnel came from the Klamath and Jackson county sheriff's departments and the U.S. Forest Service.

The chopper came late in the day as the weather grounded a Cessna 185.

Zazzara works at Intel and missed work Monday through Wednesday. His employers called a friend, who alerted authorities. They found his red 2005 Toyota RAV4 at the McLoughlin trailhead Thursday.

The mountain is popular with hikers and climbers. But most of them stick to the trail and climb between mid-July through early September.