Daming Xu, disappeared November 4th 2007, Olallie Mountain, Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon
Daming Xu, aged 63, arrived in the USA from China in late 1980's and he became a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oregon. He and his wife, Shixiu, loved travelling to Oregon's wilderness areas for day hikes and both were very fit for their age.
On November 4th 2007, Daming took a trip to the Three Sisters Wilderness area to climb the Olallie Mountain. Olallie Mt. is the in the Willamette National Forest. and is one of many smaller mountains of the Old Cascades, remnants of ancient volcanoes, before a shift in the fault zones moved the active volcanoes, the tall and snow covered Young Cascade peaks that run in a line from California up into British Columbia, further to the east.
It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies - perfect for a late Autumn trip into the Cascades. Daming was dressed only for a day hike, with a white shirt and a light leather jacket, but no backpack.
A couple also on a hiking trip, Stephanie and Paul Niedermeyer, happened to meet him near the peak at around 1.30pm. They said he only spent a few moments at the top before quickly descending, appearing to be in a hurry.
When they reached the trailhead parking lot, the couple saw a white Chevrolet Impala of semi-recent vintage parked there. They were surprised to see it as the hiker (Xu) they had encountered on the summit should have been back by now, unless he had decided to go to the Olallie Meadows on the way down as the trail forked. They agreed that the only logical assumption was that it belonged to another hiker on the French Pete Trail. By late in the afternoon with the sun going down and darkness descending, there was still no sign of the car's owner and the couple got a little concerned. They thought, "it’s not like this easy hike had any challenges. Maybe he was just taking his time; it wasn’t all that late yet."
The Niedermeyer's fears were proven correct a few days later.
Daming failed to show up at home and his wife reported him missing on the afternoon of the following day. The authorities didn’t know what hike he was planning to take, except that it was generally in the Cougar Dam area. So, search and rescue focused on a wide area covering Ollalie Mountain south of the McKenzie Bridge, Cougar Reservoir and the Three Sisters Wilderness area. Over 60 mountain rescue personnel from Eugene, Portland Corvallis, Lincoln, Linn, and Deschutes counties, as well as Deschutes County sheriff’s officials and Eugene police participated in the search. A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter infra-red FLIR was also deployed.
His car was eventually found on Bear Flats near Terwilliger Hot Springs on November 6th, containing his cell phone, water and heavier clothing. Key pieces of survival kit, left behind.
It was thought that Daming must have taken the wrong trail at the junction and headed to Olallie Meadows instead of the parking area. But surely he noticed how different that trail looked, and the fact that there was no meadow on the way up. It was only a mile to the meadows, and there was plenty of time to turn around.
Efforts were made to find him on the Olallie Meadows Trail and they found what they believed to be his tracks near Bear Flat, but the tracks were inexplicably ost at this point by sniffer dogs.
Later in the week following Xu's disappearance, the weather worsened with temperatures dropping and rain and snow. Without adequate winter clothing, this made Daming's situation very precarious in these early days of November.
On Monday, November 12th, the official search was called off, due to bad weather, but friends and volunteers continued to search. On November 15th they were lucky and one half of Sullivan’s trail book, up to page 157 was found, which included the Olallie Mt. hike on page 154. The other half had been found in his car. So why did Xu get so lost if he had a map with him?
The trail book was found in a very rugged area of the French Pete Creek drainage, on the south side of the mountain. The thinking was that Daming must have followed the trail to Bear Flat, then headed down French Pete Creek, where there is no trail. French Pete Creek is full of rocks, heavy foliage, trees and is very steep and hazardous and the going is extremely difficult due to endless fallen trees, rocks and steep terrain. After the Creek, it enters the French Pete Creek Trail, which would have either taken him back to Pat Saddle or down to Aufderheide Road 19 if he was alive at this point.
The Sheriff in charge of the search stated the biggest challenge the lost man faced was the weather. It had been fairly mild up to that point, but on November eighth, temperatures in the search area fell below freezing overnight. His family said he was a fit and accomplished hiker, but staying out overnight in these conditions would be virtually impossible in a light jacket.
On November 10th, newspapers reported that rain and fog were hampering search efforts and that the snow level was expected to drop below the forty-seven hundred foot level overnight. Part of the search area was higher than that and expected to have some accumulation. On Tuesday, November 13th, the officials scaled the search back. They had focused on between fifty and one-hundred square miles of thick forest, with nineteen agencies, dozens of volunteers and over five thousand man-hours.
One year later, a group of 45 volunteer searchers spent 400 hours looking for the remains of Xu’s body, but nothing was found. Shixiu, Daming's wife, said the hardest part was that she had no remains, nor a body to return to his family.
Daming's demise is a sad tale. Despite a beautiful sunny day and a good map, he appears to have got disorientated and wandered off in the wrong direction to an unknown fate, for some reason. It was unfortunate that the weather turned bad soon after he was reported missing. Given the thick, inaccessible forest around the French Pete Creek drainage where his guide book was found, it is likely his remains will never be discovered. A simple case of hypothermia, or something more sinister? Don't take the wilderness for granted even if you are an experienced hiker. Daming took no equipment with him at all on this day hike and this was probably his biggest mistake.
5 years later, Jake Dutton, also disappeared from the same area whilst on a solo hike. Definitely no hiking on your own in this particular area.