Washington State

Samantha Sayers - Strange disappearances from U.S. mountains

Samantha Sayers, Disappeared August 1st, 2018, Vesper Peak, North Cascades Mountains, Washington State

Samantha Sayers, Vesper Peak disappearance

Samantha "Sam" Sayers, 28, went missing whilst on a solo hike on the Vesper Peak trail in the North Cascades mountains in Washington on Wednesday, August 1st, 2018.

Sam left on the trail at around 8am and was expected to head home and check in with her boyfriend, Kevin Dares, that evening by 6pm. He couldn't accompany Sam because he was working but headed to the trail that evening with darkness coming to search for her when she hadn't returned. Around 1am the following day her family reported her missing.    

The Washington Trails Association describes the Vesper Peak Trail as "Vesper Peak is definitely not for the novice hiker, but for those thirsting for one step beyond hiking into backcountry adventure, it's a good leaping off point. The potential consequences of stumbling here are decidedly lesser than they are on other summits along the Mountain Loop. Some hikers have said that the Vesper Peak trail is “hard to follow,” implying that Sayers might have accidentally strayed from the trail.

Vesper Peak, Washington

She was last seen wearing light grey hiking pants and a black sports bra with green eyes, and bald due to alopecia, that causes hair loss. She was an experienced hiker and had hiked the Vesper area before. 

The Snohomish County Sherrif's Office undertook a search which was one of the longest and largest rescue efforts authorities have undertaken in years. 70 searchers, fourteen dog teams and helicopters searched the area to no avail. At one point, drone operators and the sheriff’s Marine Unit were involved. In addition, volunteer searchers from around the state spent thousands of hours of time, leaving bags with a note saying "Stay Strong! We're looking for you. Everyone is thinking of you" with a poncho, socks, energy bars, compass, flashlight, fire sticks and a lighter. The sheriff’s office spoke with witnesses who saw Sayers the day she went missing, but none saw her come back down the trail.

Her boyfriend said she had lunch with an unidentified male before she disappeared. This unidentified person checked in with searchers and reported that after seeing the news of the disappearance that he had lunch with Sam near the summit on that day at roughly 3 pm. He also said that after they parted ways he later saw her from a distance making her way down the west side of the mountain towards Spada Lake.

The sheriff’s office said since August 2, search operations had included 357 hours of air operations from the sheriff’s office and other agencies, 105 hours for drone operations in the search area, 82 hours for the marine unit to support search teams in Spada Lake, 329 hours for sheriff’s office search-and-rescue personnel and thousands of volunteer hours from search and rescue teams from around the state.

Sam's car was found parked at the trailhead, 27 miles south of Darrington on the Mountain Loop Highway in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

After three weeks, on August 23rd, 2018, the official search was called off with no sign of the hiker. Search and Rescue Sgt. John Adams said “We have exhausted all leads and tips. We’ve interviewed all witnesses who have come forward. We have checked and double checked the possible routes we believe Sam could have taken. If there was a place we thought she could get to, we put people there to look for Sam, often putting our volunteers and personnel at great risk due to the rugged, remote, and dangerous terrain.”

Vesper Peak Area, Washington state

Family members however continued the search, with private helicopters, dog teams and a professional tracker using the $39,000 raised on a GoFundMe page. Members of a Facebook group set up by the family helped with tasks such as searching through hours of drone video for any signs.

Despite the extensive search, no evidence relating to Sam's whereabouts has been found as of the time of the writing of this article. Another baffling disappearance. 







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. 






Richard R Lee - Strange disappearances from U.S. forests

Richard R. Lee, disappeared September 9th, 2004, Colchuck Lake, Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest, Washington.

Colchuck Lake, Washingron

Richard R. Lee, 47, of Hobart, King County went hiking alone on September 9, 2004, on a trip expected to take two days, in the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest in Washington State. He was an experienced hiker in the wilderness and planned to explore the Colchuck Lake area, part of the Cascades. 

The area was rugged but the weather was perfect when Richard set out. During the 2 days, he phoned his brother using a cell phone to tell him all was well. 

On September 11th, Lee failed to return to his home in Hobart and the authorities were eventually informed of his disappearance on September 15th by his wife, who wasn't initially concerned when he didn't return home on the 11th. Searchers quickly set up a 70-square-mile search area focusing on Lake Stuart, Colchuck Lake and the Enchantment Lakes to the southwest of Leavenworth. Unfortunately up to eight inches of snow fell in the area at the same time making the efforts of the search and rescue teams more difficult.  Three planes from the state Department of Transportation were used and Chelan County Mountain Rescue crews were assisted by volunteers from King, Yakima and Kittitas counties.


Searchers found Richard's car and eventually his camp site well off the trail. His kit like his sleeping bag and food was found in a tree to prevent bears getting to it. But nothing else relating to Richard Lee was ever located. No body, bones, equipment, clothing or signs of a struggle/blood associated with an animal attack.  There were reports by some searchers that they had a "uncomfortable" feeling around Lee's camp, but weren't specific on why. 

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.

Bryce Herda - Strange disappearances from U.S. National Parks

Bryce Herda, disappeared April 9th 1995, Shi Shi Beach Trail, Olympic National Park, Washington.

Bryce Herda disappearance

6 year old, Bryce Herda, was out hiking with his family on Shi Shi Beach, southwest of the Makah Indian Reservation close to Olympic Park (West of Seattle), when he disappeared on the early evening of April 9, 1995.

Shi Shi Trail entrance near Seattle

At the time of his disappearance, Bryce was 4'0 tall, weighed 60 pounds, with a medium build, brown eyes and light brown hair. He had a medium complexion was of Native America/Caucasian race and had a 1' vertical scar in the centre of his forehead by the hairline and a 1/8" mole on his right temple.

Bryce was last seen on the beach when his family left to walk up an adjacent trail and since he was unable to walk up the trail they agreed they would meet him back at the beach. When they returned he was nowhere to be seen. 

The boy's grandfather was chief of police when he went missing so resources were deployed quickly and in number. People began searching within 45 minutes of his disappearance, with some 30 searchers, including Coast Guard helicopters, combing the area he was last seen.

The search lasted through the night with increasing numbers of ground and water crews equipped with special equipment searching for any signs. Dog teams and more crews joined the search the next day, and within a week thousands of people, including U.S. Air Force personnel, rock climbers and divers had been concentrated in the area. Others searched the coastline and drove off roads. After a week of searching, agencies called off the search, but Bryce's family continues to look for the boy. Footsteps were discovered but were intermittent.

The family believed that Bryce had been kidnapped, particularly since no trace of him or his clothing was ever found. The nearby Ozette Trail led to a homeless community. The police believed he may have been washed out to sea, but his body was never recovered from the water.

The question is why could he not accompany the rest of his family up the trail from the beach and how long was he left on it before their return. Did an abductor have time to whisk Bryce away?

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.