Tacoma hiker missing at Mount Rainier

Staff writerJuly 14, 2014 

Searchers are looking for a 64-year-old Tacoma man missing since he failed to return Saturday from a day hike at Mount Rainier National Park.

Edwin Birch, 64, was hiking the Wonderland Trail with his son when he went missing in the Panhandle Gap area.

The search is expected to resume about 7 a.m. Tuesday.

According to park spokeswoman Fawn Bauer, Birch set out from the Box Canyon trailhead early Saturday after he dropped his son off at White River to hike south on the same trail on the park’s eastern side in the opposite direction.

The two had set a goal to hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in sections, and Saturday’s plan was to hike the 19-mile section between Box Canyon and White River.

The father and son had just began their effort, hiking the stretch from Longmire to Box Canyon the weekend before. Bauer said the son told them his father was trying to lose weight and that they were doing this to improve his conditioning.

The two met about 3:30 p.m., about midway along the trail near Indian Bar at close to 6,600 feet elevation. The son told park officials his father seemed well, though a bit tired.

After reaching the Box Canyon trailhead about midnight, the son picked up their car and drove to pick up his father at White River. When his father did not show up, the son notified park rangers at the White River range station at 1:30 a.m.

Bauer said they are unsure whether Birch was prepared to spend the night along the trail.

“Did he have all the 10 essentials or just some day-hiking supplies?” Bauer said.

The initial search Sunday involved 10 people and an MD530 helicopter from Northwest Helicopters. They searched the entire section, as well as areas close to the point where Birch was last seen, without finding any signs of him.

The effort was increased Monday, with 23 people involved in the ground search, including personnel from the Tacoma and Olympia Mountain Rescue units and an Everett Mountain Rescue dog team. They were supported by aircraft from Northwest Helicopters.

Bauer said snow covers parts of the Wonderland Trail above 6,300 feet and is patchy at other locations.

“That stretch, because it is snow-covered, can be kind of a confusing area,” Bauer said.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com

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