A search for two missing snowboarders in the Mount Baker wilderness was canceled for Wednesday – officials cited hazardous conditions and continued blizzard-like weather.
Jake Amancio and Drew Lenz of Bellingham, both in their 20s, were reported overdue by a roommate Sunday night when they didn’t return from a planned day of backcountry snowboarding in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Mt. Baker Ski Area workers found their abandoned vehicle at the Heather Meadows parking lot and a search began Monday morning. Teams of some 30 people included Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office rescue personnel, Border Patrol rescue teams, and trained search and rescue volunteers.
“It’s going to be a couple days before we are back,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates wilderness rescues. “Some (of their) friends are up there but the conditions are too dangerous for us to search the areas we haven’t been in yet.”
All of the North Cascades, including the wilderness backcountry at the east end of the Mount Baker Highway, has been under a winter storm warning since Monday. Several feet of snow has fallen and the avalanche risk remains extreme.
“Avoid traveling above treeline (generally 5,000 feet) as the avalanche danger will likely ramp up quickly with building and increasingly sensitive storm and wind slabs, the Northwest Avalanche Center said in an online post. “Don’t be lured into the higher terrain by the lower snow depths below 4,000 feet.”
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Seattle said forecast calls for snow, decreasing to snow showers Wednesday with a high near 38 degrees. Additional accumulation of 6 to 12 inches is possible through Thursday morning.
Mt. Baker Ski Area’s online snow report said Heather Meadows, with an elevation of about 3,500 feet, has a 50-inch base. At Panorama Dome, with an elevation of 5,089 feet, there’s a 65-inch base.
Search areas expanded Tuesday without results, Undersheriff Jeff Parks said in a statement Wednesday morning.
“We were able to spread out from initial search areas that were checked yesterday and get into the Swift Creek Drainage and get up to Herman Saddle and Mazama Bowl but again found no clues or signs of the missing men,” Parks said.
“At this time it is not safe to put searchers into the areas of interest higher on the mountain, in the area of Table Mountain, that we have been unable to check due to the extreme avalanche hazard,” he added.
Swift Creek runs generally south toward Baker Lake from Artist Point, which is above Heather Meadows and past the unplowed section of Mount Baker Highway. Table Mountain, Herman Saddle and Mazama Bowl are west of Artist Point, towering above the Bagley Lakes Trail that starts from the Heather Meadows lot.
According to their public Facebook pages, both Amancio and Lenz graduated from Stanwood High and they enjoy adventure sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding. Friends who contacted The Bellingham Herald said Amancio and Lenz are knowledgeable about the backcountry and likely would have carried equipment to rescue themselves or shelter in place.
Jilk said emergency officials have been fielding offers of help from the public, but he said no help is needed. He said conditions on the mountain are too dangerous and the search requires trained and equipped personnel.
“We appreciate it all, though,” Jilk said via text message.
Nevertheless, Parks said friends of the men indicated they planned a repeat search of the Swift Creek Drainage down to Baker Lake, an area of lesser avalanche concern.