Joe Wood - Strange Disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Joseph "JOE" Wood, Disappeared 8th July 1999, Longmire, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington State.

Joe wood mount rainier disappearance

Joseph Wood Jr., 34, an African American editor at the New Press, a New York publisher and former editor of The Village Voice had flown to Seattle on July 7th, 1999, to attend Unity '99, a national conference for minority journalists. He was a Yale Graduate and in 1990 he had received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship which enabled him to travel to Ghana and publish a book "Blood Whispers and Color Lines". 

As a young man,  Joe was a keen lover of the outdoors and nature and he joined the Boy Scouts, eventually reaching the highest scouting award of Eagle Scout. As a result,  he had a very good knowledge of the of the wilderness.

Mount Rainier national park

On July 8th, 1999, Joe drove alone to Mount Rainier National Park to take a hiking trip and do some bird watching on the 14,411-foot mountain, 60 miles southeast of Seattle . He entered the park at 12.29pm according to a car park receipt at the Nisqually entrance. He drove to the Longmire area and started his trek heading towards Mildred Point. He was not equipped for a lengthy hike and was dressed only in a light shirt, wearing binoculars and carrying a bird book as the weather was perfect that day in the park. Joe had a minor heart condition but was otherwise fit. He never returned and no trace of him has ever turned up in the last 18 years.

When Wood failed to reappear again at the conference, friends were surprised though not alarmed. But when he didn't return to New York on Sunday, July 11th, his ex-partner Somini Sengupta, a reporter for The New York Times, who was also at the Unity conference raised the alarm. 

Somini Sengupta

Somini Sengupta

Somini and other friends of Joe travelled to Mount Rainier and followed Joe's route up the mountain. They tried to reach the place he was last seen, but the trail was still buried in snow and rangers advised them to head back.

By Tuesday, July 13th, Somini had filed a missing-person report with the Mount Rainier National Park service and the next day, park officials found Wood’s rental car in a Mount Rainier parking area.

Rampart Ridge Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Rampart Ridge Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

On July 15th, park rangers were contacted by a hiker, Bruce Gaumond, who recognised Joe in a local newspaper story and called them. Gaumond said he had met Joe on the Rampart Ridge trail at an altitude of about 4800 feet on July 8th at around 2pm and they had briefly spoken. Joe had asked whether the snow-covered trail continued much further. Bruce told him he’d gone up another five or 10 minutes, but turned around at a snow bridge which looked dangerous to cross. He was not on a main trail but was following others' footprints, the hiker said. Bruce came down the mountain immediately after their conversation. 

Rampart Ridge Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Rampart Ridge Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Wood's three-hour hike took him through dense forests of western hemlock and Douglas fir with four- to six-foot-high compacted snow blankets which partly covered the trails. The Longmire area and Ramparts Ridge trail are at the southwest side of Mount Rainier, crossing Pearl and Devil's Dream Creeks. At 4,800 feet, it goes on to four small lakes including Squaw Lake.

In the winter of 1999, Mount Rainier was covered by very heavy snowfall but then, as much as two feet of snow melted in the warm and sunny days following Joe’s disappearance which meant that any tracks disappeared. 

The National Park Service organised search teams of backcountry rangers, firefighters, and volunteers. Squads with dogs moved out across the southwest face of the mountain with helicopters crossing the peak. 

Rampart Ridge trail mount rainier

On Friday, July 16th, heavy rain fell, but Rangers, encouraged by improving weather, decided to extend the search one day. They found no evidence of Wood and eventually the search was terminated convinced that Joe would have succumbed to the elements with his light clothing and lack of food or shelter. They believed hypothermia would have been inevitable.

According to friends, Joe had a heart condition, which he only discovered a few months prior to his disappearance after a fainting spell in an airport. He had been considering getting a pacemaker.

Given the excellent weather conditions on the day that Joe went hiking on or near the Rampart Ridge Trail it seems very strange that he disappeared without a trace. If there was a snow blizzard or fog on the day that he vanished it would be an understandable result of the severe weather conditions that can hit the Mount Rainier area. The snow melted significantly just after he went missing, so if he did fall down a ravine or a creek bed he would be visible. So, If he had fallen into the river at the Snow Bridge it would have seemed likely that he would have been easily discovered. Bruce Gaumond, the hiker that Joe met, would have given rescuers a clear area to search in. There was no evidence of an animal attack - blood, bones, shredded clothing etc.  Was he killed or abducted by person/persons unknown....perhaps....but there was no physical evidence recovered at all apart from his car parked in the spot that Joe left it.