James Griffin - Strange deaths in U.S. national parks

James Thomas Griffin, disappeared December 22nd, 2014, body found January 25th, 2015,  Boulder Creek hiking trail, Olympic National Park, Washington.

James Griffin, Olympic national park

James Thomas Griffin, 60, of Port Angeles went hiking in the Olympic National Park in Washington State just before Christmas 2014. He was last seen by other hikers at Olympic Hot Springs at around 4pm on December 22. He was reported missing on December 24 when he failed to show up for a Christmas Eve dinner as planned with friends.

James was  retired, single and lived alone. The weather was rainy and in the mid-30s on December 22 and 23.

Ten rescuers from the park and Olympic Mountain Rescue were aided by state Department of Emergency Management search dogs and their handlers. Joining the hunt for James was his own dog, Bud. Family members said Griffin was an avid hiker but makes slow progress because of an old leg injury, but he knew the park trails very well as a frequent visitor.

Olympic Hot Springs - Boulder Creek Trail Olympic National Park

Griffin’s daypack was found on Christmas Day about a half-mile from the trailhead of the Boulder Creek hiking trail in the Olympic peninsula’s Elwha Valley and 50 feet off the trail itself. The pack was leaning against a log, looking like items had been removed and contained his camera, stove, food, water, snacks and fire-starters.  A towel was lying on the pack and a nearby log sat a coke can and a plastic coffee mug as well as an unfinished bag of prepared freeze-dried food which had been resealed.

There were no signs of a struggle in the area and the camera contained an image of a nearby waterfall.

Despite a week-long search no other clues were found until Sunday, January 25th, 2015, when James' body was finally recovered about a third of a mile and nearly 1,000 vertical feet above the trail.

According to park officials, it appeared Griffin had stepped off the trail to prepare a snack but at some point became disoriented and could not find the trail again. Spokesperson, Barb Maynes said “There is nothing to suggest anything other than someone who lost his location and couldn’t find his backpack again, where he stepped off the trail, and became lost and disoriented,” As to why he climbed the steep hill, where his body was found, Maynes said: “If it’s dark and you can’t see anything, it’s easier to walk uphill. You’re more in control.”

The Clallam County forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Kiesel issued an autopsy report that indicated that James had died from hypothermia. His brother Robert said in an interview that the result was "really odd,”.  “It's just one of those things that happened, and nobody will ever know what the reasons were for him going up the hill.”

The case of James Griffin is strange. Why did he leave his pack and food just off the trail and climb 1000 feet up a steep hillside and then die of hypothermia? Investigators say he just got disorientated on his way back to the car and then got lost in the dark. Yet the trail is well marked. The autopsy confirmed there was no drugs or alcohol involved. Another mysterious death in the Olympic National Park.