Missing hikers found alive and well

Missing hikers found alive and well »Play Video
34-year-old Kevin Dean (left) and 32-year-old Mark Lapinskas (right)

COUGAR, Wash. (AP) - Two hikers missing in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest have been found alive and well.

The two men, 32-year-old Mark Lapinskas and 34-year-old Kevin Dean, both of Vancouver, Wash., failed to return from a climb on Mount St. Helens. They were reported overdue Tuesday night.

Skamania County Undersheriff Dave Cox said a deputy found their car early Wednesday at the Marble Mountain Snow Park about 10 miles northeast of Cougar.

A rescuer, who was driving on a service road, found them late in the afternoon when they walked out of the woods and onto the road south of Mount St. Helens. The rescuer drove them back to the command center.

Lapinskas and Dean were reunited with their wives at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

They said during their descent, whiteout conditions caused them to become disoriented and they got lost. With darkness approaching, they decided to build a shelter out of tree branches leaned against a pine tree.

They said they are experienced hikers but admitted they’ve gotten lost before. They are brother-in-laws who married a pair of sisters.

“We’re just so relieve,” said Lapinskas. “I mean we’re mentally and physically just drained. And just to be able to find a road and know that it’s almost over, we’re just overjoyed, I guess.”

“(We) got a little disoriented,” Dean said. “(It) ended up getting dark. We made the smart decision, made a shelter. Didn’t sleep much last night. We’re excited to be back down and not stressing out my wife anymore.”

The Daily News reported that a group of three climbers that included two employees of the Longview newspaper saw the two Vancouver men around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday about 600 feet shy of the summit. Lapinskas reached the summit with them about a half hour later.

Visibility was poor, about 15 paces, with sustained winds of 20 to 25 mph, according to Daily News copy editor Evan Caldwell, a member of the group.

"So we added another layer of clothing and slid down. About 30 vertical feet later, we met with Kevin (Dean) and we all stopped to formulate a plan. He and Mark decided to climb up so Kevin could reach the summit," Caldwell said.

He and his two climbing partners decided to keep sliding down.

"The three of us didn't see anyone else during the rest of the descent, and Mark and Kevin's car was the only one left in the parking lot at Marble Mountain when we left at about 5 p.m."

About 13,000 people each year climb the 8,365-foot volcano that was left after the 1980 eruption blew 1,300 feet off the top. The U.S. Forest Service said the climbing route provides views of the crater, lava dome and eruption area. Most climbers can complete the round trip in seven to 12 hours.

In February, a climber who had been posing for a picture on the rim of Mount St. Helens fell 1,500 into the crater and died when a snow overhang gave way. The body of Joseph Bohlig, 52, of Kelso, was recovered the next day.

Information from: The Daily News and KATU News
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)