Karen Sykes - Strange disappearances in US National Parks

Karen Sykes, disappeared June 18th 2014, Owyhigh Lakes Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Karen Sykes Mount Rainier disappearance

70 year old, Karen Sykes, was well known in the Northwest of America hiking community. She had written many hiking stories for online publications and newspapers as well as being a photographer and author of a book about hikes in western Washington. She co-wrote another book about hikes in wildflower areas as well as a popular trail column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and produced additional stories about Washington treks for The Seattle Times. Karen also kept a blog called “Karens Trails” where she posted hiking-related stories, photographs and trail reports.

Karen Sykes disappearance Mount Rainier

On June 18th, 2014 she was hiking in the Mount Rainier National Park near Seattle with her boyfriend, to research an article she was planning to write. Mountain Rainier is a 14,410-foot peak. She had adequate survival gear to camp overnight in the event of an emergency. Karen hiked ahead of her partner when the two reached snow level at an elevation of about 5,000 feet on the east side of the mountain. She told him she would just walk up the trail a bit and be right back. But amazingly she was never seen alive again. 

Owyhigh Lakes Trail, Mount Rainier

Lola Kemp, a close friend said "She is the guru of trails" adding that Sykes hiked at least twice a week and had a background in climbing and scrambling. Greg Johnston, a former outdoors writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, said Karen was an avid, strong hiker who knew the mountain extremely well. "She's the last person anyone would expect to get lost, particularly on Mount Rainier," said Johnston, who recruited Sykes to write a weekly hiking feature for the newspaper, which ran for more than a decade. 'If anybody can survive it, it's her. She's really tough and really savvy.'

She was last seen in the area around the Owyhigh Lakes Trail and six ground crews, two dog teams and aircraft scoured the area. The search was suspended after 3 days when rescuers found a female body in rough, steep terrain an area difficult to access and not commonly travelled.

An autopsy by the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office said that Karen had died of hypothermia, strange when she was adequately dressed against the elements. But, during the period that she was missing, temperatures were as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the park. A secondary cause of Karens' death was heart disease but she did not have other injuries, and officials ruled her death accidental. Despite the autopsy finding of heart disease, Sykes’ daughter and others said she was healthy and fit. 

But how did Karen get so badly lost on a well-marked trail and how did she end up in an area which was difficult to access and not commonly travelled? Especially when she was with her boyfriend moments before.