Mount Rainier

Chet Hanson - Strange disappearances in U.S. national parks

Chet E Hanson, disappeared November 11th, 1997, Deer Creek Trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park, California

Chet Hanson disappearance

Chet Hanson, 27, lived in Wilkeson, Washington State. He was a keen photographer of the outdoors and nature.

On 11th November 1997, Chet left his home at around 6.30am for a photography trip in the Mt. Rainier National Park. His mother said goodbye as he left and he told her that he would be back in time for dinner that day. He took around 35 pounds of camera equipment with him including lenses and a tripod. He was dressed lightly in shorts and a fleece and wore hiking/trail boots.

Shriner trail, mount rainier national park

Unfortunately, he didn't show up for dinner as planned that evening, but his parents weren't overly concerned that first night as they believed he may have been staying with friends. On Wednesday 12th, his employers, Alaska Airways, phoned the parents that he hadn't turned up at work as expected at 2.30pm and he was reported missing.


A search was started by friends and family and his car was found at the Deer Creek Trailhead in the park. Wilkeson police were informed of Chet's disappearance and then subsequently park rangers. The car was opened and a set of negatives, a key ring with a set of house keys, glasses case and some miscellaneous papers. One negative was from Highway 410 and the other was a photograph from the Tipsoo Lake area.

Shriner peak lookout, mount rainier

Chet was a strong hiker and knew the Mount Rainier area well, tending to walk cross country and avoid the trails. He had been focusing on photographing water falls and lakes recently which gave the searchers some valuable clues to his likely destination the day he went to the park.  A member of the public, Willard Olson and his girlfriend,  reported that they had seen someone who fitted Chet's description at Shriner Peak on 11th November at around mid-day. 

Despite an extensive search with sniffer dogs, cadaver dogs and at least 100 searchers, neither Chet nor his precious camera equipment were ever found. He had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Eric Lewis - Strange Disappearances from US and Canadian National Parks

Eric Lewis, Disappeared Mount Ranier National Park, Washington state, July 1st 2010

Eric Lewis Mount Rainier

Eric Lewis, 57 of Duvall, Washington, (born October 23, 1952) was reported missing near the top of Mt. Rainier while mountain climbing July 1st 2010. Mount Rainier's peak is at 14,410 feet, located south east of Seattle, north west of Portland in Washington.

Mount Rainier map location

Eric vanished when he became separated from his two climbing companions. He went missing when they discovered that he had unclipped from the climbing rope at 14,000 feet and suddenly disappeared. The three-man team was ascending the Gibraltar Ledges route and encountered bad weather, with high wind and visibility of as little as 5 feet.

According to park officials, the climber in the lead, Don Storms, stopped and was joined by the second climber on the rope, Trevor Lane. As they waited for Eric to join them (who was last on the rope), reeling it in, they discovered only a coil of rope with a knot. They had caught glimpses of him on the the rope just moments before, and immediately searched the slope below them. They proceeded to the summit ridge in case he had skirted around them. They then returned to Camp Muir, the climbing high camp at 10,200 feet, and reported the incident to climbing rangers.

A team of climbers searched the Nisqually Ice Fall and Gibraltar Chute areas, and a Chinook helicopter flew climbing areas it seems possible he could have ended up. Climbing ranger Tom Payne and two mountain guides climbed to the summit looking for Eric on late Thursday, the day of the disappearance. The day after the search expanded, with more than 40 people involved. Ground searchers included National Park Service climbing rangers; climbing guides from Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., Alpine Ascents International, and International Mountain Guides; and volunteers from Olympic Mountain Rescue.

Park rangers aboard a military Chinook helicopter from Fort Lewis and a commercial helicopter from Northwest Helicopters searched from the air. Searchers did locate Eric's backpack, climbing harness, and snow shovel at 13,600 feet, and a small snow cave at 13,800 feet. He did not have a sleeping bag, tent, food, or down jacket with him. 

Incident Commander Glenn Kessler said at the time, "The search area is high-elevation glacial terrain and demands a high level of technical skill. The odds of finding the missing climber alive must be weighed against the risk to searchers operating in such hazardous conditions," "We've thoroughly searched the areas where we were likely to find Eric Lewis, and believe it's now time to scale back. Normal patrols of the mountain with a vigilant eye toward finding clues pertaining to the missing climber will continue."

Why did Eric cut himself from the rope? Why has his body never been found?

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.

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.