Crews search for missing hiker at Mount Rainier

Staff writerJune 20, 2014 

Mount Rainier search crews are looking for hiking writer Karen Sykes of Seattle, who has been missing since Wednesday. Sykes, 70, was first reported missing at 10:30 p.m. that night.

Ground crews today are searching the Owyhigh Lakes area. On Thursday, ground and air search operations focused on the length of the 8-mile Owyhigh Lakes Trail, according to park spokeswoman Patti Wold.

Sykes apparently went ahead when she and hiking partner Bob Morthorst reached snow at approximately 4,500-5,000 feet in elevation at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Sykes is a knowledgeable hiker, writing hiking stories for various print and online publications and two books. She had adequate survival gear to stay overnight in the field in case of an emergency, Wold said.

“She literally wrote the book on survival, so if anyone can survive this, she can,” said Mary Kay Nelson, executive director of Visitrainier.com. Sykes writes hiking articles for the website, and was researching a hike on this trip, Nelson said.

“She wrote the book on the 10 essentials. But accidents happen. That’s why this is so scary,” Nelson added.

Sykes has written “Hidden Hikes,” published by Mountaineer Books, and co-authored “Best Wildflower Hikes” with Art Kruckeberg and Craig Romano. She also wrote about hiking safety in the hike-of-the-week feature she wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Romano said he was puzzled why Sykes would continue hiking on her own.

“I have hiked with Karen before and she doesn’t take risks like that,” Romano said. “She is very prepared and calculating. I have a hard time understanding why she would just take off. We’re trying to figure out what the heck happened.”

He described Sykes as a free spirit, intelligent and caring.

“As a trip leader, she is very concerned about everyone’s welfare. She is very matriarchal,” Romano said. “She loves the mountains, she loves the outdoors.”

The German Shepherd Search and Rescue of Washington State, King County Explorers, plus Everett, Olympic and Seattle Mountain Rescue personnel are involved in the search. An MD-530 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters in Olympia, was used Thursday.

The operations team is working out of the White River Ranger Station in the northeast segment of the park. A helicopter has been used in Friday’s search, Wold said. It is cloudy, but the cloud deck has climbed later in the day. Crews were told to be out by 9:30 p.m. Friday, Wold said.

The search area is in steep, rugged terrain between two ridges with snow cover starting around the 4,500-6,500 foot level.

Safety concerns include snow bridges, tree wells, and steep, wet and slippery terrain, Wold said. On Thursday, a searcher was hurt by punching through a snow bridge. He was air lifted out of the search area.

Sykes and Morthorst started at the Deer Creek trailhead where the Owyhigh Lakes Trail follows a creek as it climbs toward Owyhigh Lake.

In an unrelated incident on Thursday, an injured climber was airlifted off nearby Double Peak.

The second search was started when a personal locator beacon was set off. Wold said the climber injured his leg and could not descend on his own.

Craig Hill contributed to this report. Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com

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