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Treacherous weather hampers search for two hikers in Washington state

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Heavy rain and snowfall hampered search efforts for two missing hikers in Washington state on Wednesday, including a woman on a solo hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail and a man who was exploring caves, authorities said.

A day earlier, rescuers used a helicopter to pluck two other hikers from heavy snowfall on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Alejandra Wilson, 23, of Oregon was walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada when she failed to check in with her father on Monday as planned from White Pass, a mountain locale in Washington state about 140 miles northeast of Portland, authorities said.

Rescuers do not know the exact whereabouts of Wilson, who was hiking alone amid heavy snow in the area when she fell out of contact, said Scamania County chief criminal deputy Pat Bond.

The Pacific Crest Trail is a hiking and equestrian pathway that runs along the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges along the length of the western United States, covering over 2,660 miles between Mexico and Canada.

Stormy weather coupled with deep snow in the region where Wilson went missing has prevented authorities from sending in aircraft or ground personnel to locate her, but they hope to do that on Wednesday, he said.

"We can't get anybody up yet, the weather is still too bad," Bond said. "She was well equipped, it's entirely possible that she's fine and just sitting down and waiting out the weather."

The second missing hiker, 31-year-old Kristopher Zitzewitz of Oregon, became separated from his hiking partner on Saturday as they went caving in the Big Lava Beds area of Gifford Pinchot National Forest in central Washington state near Mount Rainier, Bond said.

"The lava beds are a very treacherous area," Bond said. "It's easy to get turned around in there."

Between 15 and 40 searchers have been looking for Zitzewitz on the ground since Saturday, Bond said, though heavy rain and low clouds have prevented aircraft from assisting in the search.

U.S. Air Force Special Operations members have joined in the effort, he said.

Rescuers in a helicopter on Tuesday evening picked up two other hikers in southwest Washington state, Bond said. They also were traversing the Pacific Crest Trail.

Matthew Margiotta of Illinois and Kyla Arnold of Missouri had set out from Mexico and were traveling to Canada when they woke up Monday morning north of the small town of Trout Lake to two feet of snow, Bond said. They called authorities by cell phone to say they needed rescuing.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Ken Wills)

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