James McGrogan disappeared March 14th 2014, Body found April 3rd, 2014, Booth Falls, VAIL, Colorado
39-year-old Dr James (Jim) McGrogan, went missing on Friday, March 14, 2014, during a hiking trip near Vail, Colorado.
Vail is a small town at the base of Vail Mountain and the centre of of the huge ski resort, set within the White River National Forest.
Dr McGrogan had recently returned to Indiana from Wisconsin to work in the emergency room of St. Joseph Regional Medical Centre in Mishawaka.
That morning at about 8:30am, Jim and three hiking companions left on the 9 mile hike to the Eiseman Hut. At the time there was a lot of snow in the area - several feet deep in some areas. There are two main routes from the Vail area to the Eiseman Hut. One via Spraddle Creek and a more westerly route via Red Sandstone Creek. It is not clear which route the group took that day but both were used heavily and were well marked with compacted snow.
At about 10:00 AM, with the hikers still about 5 miles from the hut, the group stopped to rest. According to his companions, Jim decided to hike on ahead of the party, and they expected to catch up with him along the way.
After Jim left the others behind to hike on ahead by himself, he was strangely never seen again. When the rest of the group reached the Eiseman Hut it was late afternoon on March 14th, there was no sign at all of McGrogan.
By 5:30 pm they had notified the Vale Department of Public Safety and subsequently, the Eagle Valley Sheriff's Department and a rescue was started over an 18 square mile area.
The Eagle County Sheriff's office said McGrogan was well equipped, with a large pack with food, water, cell phone including an extra battery, basic medical supplies, a sleeping bag, avalanche beacon, GPS and warm clothing. He was also carrying a split snowboard (a snowboard that divides lengthwise) plus skins and other equipment from Confluence Kayaks in Denver and was wearing the boots that went with the board.
McGrogan's cell phone pinged once the day he went missing but after that, it went dead.
Over the next three days, teams of searchers on foot, snowmobile and three helicopters from the National Guard's High Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS), based in nearby Gypsum, Colorado searched the area. But by Tuesday, March 18th, bad weather forced the search to be suspended.
Crews had spent a combined 1,000 hours searching for McGrogan. A five-day search failed to find any sign of him despite snow in the area which would have indicated if someone was hiking or skiing off trail.
20 days later, his body was found by a group of backcountry skiers about 4 1/2 miles from the trail on April 3rd, near the Booth Falls area, way to the east of the Eiseman Hut. The reporting party told authorities that he and two others were skiing the Booth Falls area when they located the dead body in an ice fall below Booth Falls laying on top of an ice sheet (an icefall is a frozen waterfall which flows down a steep slope). He was found wearing his helmet, no coat, no gloves and very strangely with no boots. In his backback his cell phone was discovered and in this area there appeared to be active cellular reception. Jim's snowboard was also found nearby but McGrogan's boots were never located.
On April 7th, 2014, Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said that James McGrogan died of multiple injuries, including head trauma and to the left side of his chest and a broken femur. His death was ruled an accident.
What happened to Dr Jim McGrogan on March 14, 2014? He hiked 12-14 miles (4.5 miles as the crow flies) across the backcountry in deep snow (up to 8 feet in places) and apparently and lost his boots. Perhaps he succumbed to hypothermia and began to paradoxically undress? Why didn't he use his cell phone or GPS tracker both of which were fully functional? Why did he become separated from his hiking group and decide to leave on his own for Eiseman Hut? A very mysterious case from the mountains around Vail.