Port Townsend skier lost at Hurricane Ridge

By Brian Gawley, Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES - Olympic National Park rangers are searching for a 53-year-old Port Townsend man who became lost Saturday afternoon while backcountry skiing in the cold, snowy Hurricane Ridge area.

"We haven't found him yet. We're still looking for him," said Larry Nickey, emergency operations coordinator for Olympic National Park, at about 6 p.m. Saturday.

Randy Kraxberger, who had headed toward Hurricane Hill on cross-country skis, called his wife, Lisa Enarson, on his cell phone at about 3:15 p.m., wanting the phone number for the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.

"He said he was in a bit of a bind because the clouds had come in and he was a little disoriented," she said.

Enarson called Olympic National Park headquarters, and rangers began the search.

"I'm doing everything I can from here," Enarson, Kraxberger's wife for 30 years, said Saturday evening from their Port Townsend home.

"He's a very experienced backcountry guy. He's taken avalanche courses. He's in excellent physical condition.

"I still have hope he will come out tonight, but surely in the morning."

Kraxberger was on Hurricane Hill Road past the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, and probably was somewhere on the east side of Hurricane Hill, Nickey said.

Nickey said searchers had intermittent cell phone contact with him - although none since 5 p.m. Saturday - but it's "very sporadic."

"It's like one or two words, and then the call drops out," he said.

Some cell phones have GPS locators but his doesn't, Nickey said.

"It sounds like he is fairly prepared," he said.

"He had all the basic backcountry gear, good fleece and good snow gear."

A winter storm warning lasting until noon today was issued for the mountains at noon Saturday, with avalanche danger "considerable" below 7,000 feet.

The Ridge has about 70 inches of snow.

The National Weather Service predicted new snowfall of three to seven inches and a low temperature of 19 degrees Saturday night.

Assistance today
Olympic National Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said volunteers from Olympic Mountain Rescue of Bremerton are expected to arrive this morning to assist in the search.

"We have seven people in the field right now, and four more heading up tonight," she said at about 6:45 p.m. Saturday.

Because of the whiteout conditions and avalanche danger, the searchers' task is to ski along Hurricane Hill Road with their flashlights and make as much noise and activity as possible, Maynes said.

"Then hopefully, he will come towards the road," she said.

A member of the Hurricane Ridge Ski Club also was driving a snow grooming vehicle along Hurricane Hill road Saturday evening to attempt to get Kraxberger's attention, Maynes said.

Today's searchers will coordinate with the park's road crew, depending on how much snow falls Saturday night, Maynes said.

"The park road crew comes on duty before 5 a.m. routinely, so hopefully they'll be able to get up there," she said.

Maynes said Saturday that two searchers had tried skiing beyond the section of road that serves as the cross-country ski trail, but that they turned around because of wind gusts of 45 mph, low visibility and high avalanche danger.

"So now the rescuers have decided that, safely, they can only go along the road," she said.

"The only thing they can do is ski and make noise and shine their flashlights, and there's also the snow groomer."

The area along the Hurricane Hill Road is flat and easy for skiing, but beyond that the winter time ski routes - they really aren't trails - are "quite challenging," Maynes said.

"In the winter, it's a route that involves winter backcountry ski skills.

"Our understanding is the gentleman is a bit more than an intermediate skier," she said.

"He was prepared for day hike and has a flashlight and compass."

Enarson said, "I really think at this point Randy's embarrassed.

"I'm really, really hoping he's huddled in a tree well trying to stay warm.

"I know he wouldn't want anyone to get hurt looking for him."

Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or brian.gawley@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 29. 2007 9:00PM
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