2 Climbers Found Dead on El Capitan

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Two mountain climbers were found dangling lifeless on the side of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on Wednesday after snowstorms stranded hikers throughout the Central Sierra.

The climbers were spotted Tuesday by Yosemite rangers but could not be reached because of driving wind and snow brought by a storm from the Gulf of Alaska that swooped across much of California over the weekend.

A helicopter crew took off Wednesday as the storm began to clear and spotted the climbers about two-thirds of the way up the 3,200-foot face, Park Ranger Deb Schweizer said.

"They were not equipped for a winter storm," she said.

The bodies of the man and woman, who were from Japan and whose names weren't released, were expected to be retrieved today.

They were among seven people on the famous climbing wall when the brunt of the storm hit Tuesday, Schweizer said.

A solo climber was helped down Wednesday, and rangers who reached another man and woman planned to remain with them throughout the night before hiking down today, she said.

Two other climbers just asked for extra supplies and continued their climb.

Elsewhere in the Sierra on Wednesday, rescuers pummeled by heavy snow and strong winds struggled to find eight stranded backpackers in two groups who were caught off-guard by the fierce storm.

Four close friends from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Lafayette were reported missing Tuesday morning and were believed to be in the Ansel Adams Wilderness on the southern fringe of Yosemite National Park.

The men, Jeff Peacock, 45; his father, 75-year-old Tom Peacock; Douglas W. Schneider, 47, and Britt Jefferson, 57, were described as experienced backpackers who were prepared for bad weather.

"They went extremely well-equipped, and we take huge comfort in that," said Cindy Schneider, who said her husband is a biochemist for Berlex BioSciences in Richmond.

Meanwhile, four members of a Santa Cruz County winemaking family have been missing since Sunday at a 9,400-foot-elevation lake east of Fresno in the Sierra National Forest.

"I just believe that we're going to find them. It seems foolish to undertake this [hike]. But in all fairness, they didn't know this storm was coming," Rita Bargetto said.

Her brother, Paul Bargetto, 47; his brother-in-law, Frank Horath, 45; and their sons, Michael Bargetto, 20, and Dominic Horath, 16, began the hike Friday at Courtright Reservoir, in a remote area northeast of Fresno. They had been expected to return Sunday.

Wednesday's conditions initially forced searchers to turn back. But late Wednesday, the Fresno County Sheriff's Department was able to dispatch a helicopter toward the group's location.

If the hikers were spotted, a helicopter was prepared to drop supplies, Robert Osborn of the Sheriff's Department said.

Several members of the Bargetto family, including Paul's twin brother, Peter, and some of his other nine siblings, were awaiting word in a cabin at Shaver Lake near the sheriff's command post .

The Bargetto family, owner of the Bargetto Winery, has been making wine in the Santa Cruz area since 1933. Paul and Peter Bargetto, along with business partner Jon Morgan, began a separate winery, Soquel Vineyards, in 1987.

Rita Bargetto said Frank Horath was an experienced outdoorsman who planned the trip and made adequate preparations for two nights in the wilderness, including leaving a detailed map of the group's route. Michael Bargetto is an emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter in Santa Cruz County.

"Our greatest hope is that we have very, very smart and avid hikers. They were not primed for snow, but they did have sleeping bags and a tent," Rita Bargetto said Wednesday from the cabin via cellphone.

"We feel very much like we need to find them soon," she said.

Rescuers were able to locate a missing couple from San Luis Obispo who were hiking to Mystery Lake when they got caught in a storm. A helicopter spotted John Baumgarner and Shana McCarthy on Wednesday night, said Lt. Mark Padilla of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

The couple "looked all right," he said, and were told to stay in place until rescuers could try to reach them today.

"It's proving more difficult to get where they are than we first thought," Padilla said.

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