Mountain Deaths

James McGrogan- Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

James McGrogan disappeared March 14th 2014, Body found April 3rd, 2014,  Booth Falls, VAIL, Colorado

James McGrogan- Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

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.

Jqmes Mcgrogan Vail Colorado death

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.

Eiseman Hut, Vail, Colorado

Eiseman Hut, Vail, Colorado

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. 

booth lake trail, vale colorado

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. 

booth lake trailhead sign vale colorado

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.

James McGrogan body Booth Falls, , Vail, Colorado

James McGrogan body Booth Falls, , Vail, Colorado

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.


Gene George - Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

Gene George, disappeared September 19th 2013, body found March 24th 2014, North Cottonwood Creek Trail, Mount Harvard, Colorado

gene george disappearance mount harvard

Gene George, 64, was last seen on Wednesday, September 18, 2013. He was a partner with Ray Robinson lawyers located in Cleveland. He had spoken to a friend in Cleveland from a Buena Vista, Coloarado hotel room saying he planned to hike the Mount Harvard area on Thursday or Friday. He was an experienced hiker but not known to do overnight stays in the wilderness.

Mount Harvard is the third highest summit of the Rocky Mountains. The prominent 14,421-foot (4395.6 m) fourteener is the highest summit of the Collegiate Peaks and the fourth highest summit in the contiguous United States and is located in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness of San Isabel National Forest, 11.7 miles from the Town of Buena Vista in Chaffee County, Colorado. The mountain was named in honour of Harvard University.

Mount Harvard Colorado

A concerned hotel employee notified Buena Vista police on Sunday when Gene failed to check out of his hotel room. A search began in the area that afternoon after authorities discovered George’s vehicle parked and locked at the North Cottonwood Creek trailhead.

His movements after that are not certain, although other hikers reported seeing a man fitting Gene's description who reached the summit of Mount Harvard on September 21st.

The Chaffee County Sheriff requested help from search teams in Summit, Eagle, Gunnison, Pitkin and Teller counties. Forty hikers, four search dogs and two horseback teams searched the area, together with two helicopters. But after four days the search was called off with no clues found. 

After the search for his body was called off, Gene's sister, Linda Petrigac, of Willoughby, donated $5,000 to the Chaffee County Sheriff's Department, saying at the time she wanted to thank them for all the hard work and dedication they put into finding him.

Then there was  a breakthrough over six months later. On Sunday 23rd March 2014, whilst hiking, Karl Maes, 20, of Colorado Springs discovered a wallet and clothing in the underbrush and rugged terrain a quarter-mile off the trail to Mount Harvard and Mount Columbia. The hiker turned the wallet over to the sheriff's department and on Monday March 24th search volunteers were gathered to scour the area. Accompanied by Maes, search volunteers began searching at 8 a.m. Monday and discovered the remains about 3 hours later at around 11 am. The site was approximately 2½ miles from the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, where George’s car was found parked in September.

North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead, mount harvard map

Chaffee County Coroner Randy Amettis, said they had a sample of the missing hiker's DNA and are waiting on the results of DNA tests before they make a positive identification. Authorities did not know the cause of death, but they did not suspect foul play.

Another strange death in the wilderness.  Why were Gene's wallet and clothing found in the undergrowth off trail. Had he gone to relieve himself and been attacked by animals or had a heart attack? The authorities dismiss foul play but who knows.