Mountain Disappearances

Katherine Wong - Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

Dr. Katherine Wong disappearance bear valley

Dr. Katherine Wong, Disappeared February 19th, 1999, Body found June 10th, 1999, Bear Valley Ski Resort, California.

Dr. Katherine Wong, 48, was a San Jose paediatrician and Milpitas resident who mysteriously disappeared from the Bear Valley Ski Resort, south of Lake Tahoe in California. Dr. Wong had gone skiing with her husband, 52-year-old paediatric dentist John Wong, two relatives and two of her three children, a 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. She was an intermediate level skier and visited California's ski resorts on a regular basis.

She was last seen February 19, 1999 at the ski resort, south of Lake Tahoe. It is located on Highway 4 between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and is described as a family-friendly resort that accommodates skiers and riders of all levels and abilities. It has more than 75 trails, 1,680 skiable acres and 1,900 feet of vertical drop, all serviced by a total of ten lifts. It was the family's first visit to Bear Valley, as they had heard it was one of the quieter resorts.

Katherine ate lunch with the group about 11.30 a.m. and skied for the next few hours with her husband, whilst the kids went their adult cousin.

About 3:45 pm, Katherine took a ski lift up the mountain with her husband, but then they separated and she took a different path down using the Mokelumne West Run, an intermediate slope. When John reached the bottom of the slope his wife was nowhere to be seen. Dr. Wong was wearing a light gray jacket and light blue pants and ski boots when she disappeared. She had black hair, brown eyes, is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed about 118 pounds.

Bear Valley  lifts and slopes

John and their son looked for Katherine for about 30 minutes and then notified resort officials that she had gone missing. The Alpine County Sheriff's Department and Bear Valley ski patrols searched for her with the assistance of two helicopters, ten winter-trained dog teams and about 50 search experts from nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies.

Two days later, the search was called off a winter storm brought in heavy snow and officials told the family that the chances of surviving such a storm were slim to none. After such a significant search for Katherine, the authorities believed she may have met with foul play or left the resort. ''There are no tracks going out, except for animal tracks,'' Deputy Sheriff Matt Streck said. ''But if she's here, she's not able to respond to us.''

John Wong and the rest of the family were interviewed and, he voluntarily took a lie detector test and authorities subsequently confirmed that he was not a suspect. He confirmed that Katherine was a cautious skier and after over 20 years of marriage he believed it was highly unlikely she had run off with another man, especially leaving her children behind. John complained that officials gave up too soon in the initial search for his wife.

The FBI was involved to help detectives review surveillance tapes. FBI spokesman George Grotzsaid said "Absent evidence of foul play or possible interstate aspects, we will not be involved (further). We've discussed it with them, and we can assist when asked."

The Alpine County Sheriff's Department interviewed ski lift operators and other employees who may have seen Wong that day. Although credit card receipts prove that Katherine did purchase lift tickets at Bear Valley on February 19th, ski lift operators did not recall seeing anyone fitting her description. A review of surveillance tapes from the ski resort did not show anything suspicious.

Deputy Matt Streck of the Sheriff's Department said the initial search for Wong was one of the most comprehensive operations he has seen in years saying that "I've personally hiked miles and miles myself since this happened," Streck said he found it unusual that searchers have not found any signs of the doctor at the ski area. "I think as time goes by, it will become more evident that this was not a ski accident. But I have no proof of that."

On June 10th, 1999, Katherine's body was eventually found, around four months after she went missing. She was found in a steep ravine, in a heavily wooded canyon a half-mile south of the ski area and marked trails. Bone fragments and pieces of hair were found scattered over a quarter-mile square area together with a ski lift ticket, driver's license and bank credit card belonging to Wong as well as a parka, ski pants, boots, a wristwatch, skis and ski poles and other personal effects.

Investigators were baffled how she came to be in the area where her remains and personal effects were found since the ravine is well outside the ski resort, in a remote area about 400 yards away from a group of homes. Police found no evidence of foul play and believed it was an unfortunate accident when Katherine became lost and hypothermic. Searchers had not bothered to look earlier in the area where the bone fragments were found because it was considered highly unlikely that Katherine would have ventured there since it was in an area that would be difficult to reach by accident. Also, the area was covered by eight feet of snow shortly after she disappeared. But the fact that it was not searched, confirmed John Wong's complaints about the thoroughness of the initial search, though recent melting of the snow had made the ravine more accessible.

Because of the dispersal and scarcity of the bones, investigators speculate that wild animals may have disturbed Wong's body after her death. 


The Mathias Group from Yuba City - Strange deaths on U.S. mountains

Yuba city five disappearances 1978 - Jack Huett, William Sterling, Jack Madruga, Theodore Weiher, Gary Mathias

Gary Dale Mathias, Jack Madruga, Jackie Huett, Theodore (Ted) Weiher and William Sterling, disappeared February 24, 1978, Oroville, Plumas National Forest, California.

On February 24, 1978, a group of friends from Yuba City in California; Gary Dale Mathias, Jack Madruga, Jackie Huett, Theodore (Ted) Weiher and William Sterling; set out on a trip to watch a basketball game, left after it finished and then somehow drove up a mountain into the wilderness and were never seen again. This story has been described as the American version of the very mysterious Dyatlov Pass incident. This involved the unsolved deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural Mountains in the Soviet Union (now Russia) between 1 February and 2 February 1959. The area in which the incident took place was named Dyatlov Pass in honour of the group's leader, Igor Dyatlov.

The group aged between 24 and 32 years of age, had developmental disabilities and were all enrolled in a day program for mentally handicapped adults, but that did not mean that they were unable to function in society. Gary had schizophrenia and was on medication to control his symptoms and Jack had low I.Q.  but hadn’t been diagnosed as mentally disabled and both of them had served in the U.S. Army and had driver’s licenses.

Ted Weiher was employed for a while as a janitor and snack bar clerk but quit at the urging of his family, who thought Weiher's slowness was causing problems. Jackie Charles Huett, had a slight droop to the head, was sometimes slow to respond and a loving shadow to Weiher, who looked after Huett in a protective sort of way and would dial the phone for him when Hyett had to make a call. Jack Antone Madruga, a high school graduate and Army veteran, was laid off in November 1977 from his job as a busboy for Sunsweet Growers. William Lee Sterling, was Madruga's special friend, deeply religious, would spend hours at the library reading literature to help bring Jesus to patients in mental hospitals. Gary Dale Mathias, was an assistant in his stepfather's gardening business and an army veteran with psychiatric discharge after drug problems that developed in Germany five years before.

Mathias took Stellazine and Cogentin, both used in the treatment of schizophrenia. Police records showed he had become violent on occasion and was charged with assault twice. After his return from Germany, he would fail to take his drugs and lapse into a disoriented psychosis that usually landed him in a Veterans Administration hospital. "Went haywire," is how Bob, his stepfather, put it.

On Friday, February 24th, they drove about 50 miles north from Yuba to Chico to attend a college basketball game. When the game ended at the California State University at around 10 pm they stopped three blocks away at Behr's Market, mildly annoying the clerk (who was trying to close up), and bought one Hostess cherry pie, one Langendorf lemon pie, one Snickers bar, one Marathon bar, two Pepsis and a quart and a half of milk.

The next day when they failed to return from Chico, their families became concerned and called the police.

They were supposed to play a basketball game of their own on February 25, part of a tournament, with a free week in Los Angeles if they won. Their clothes had been laid out the evening of the 24th, before they left for Chico with "Gateway Gators" on them, from the Yuba City vocational rehabilitation centre for the handicapped where they all played basketball. Weiher had asked his mother to wash his new white high-topped sneakers for the tournament saying "We got a big game Saturday. Don't you let me oversleep."

The county sheriffs department began searching for the men. 

On Tuesday, February 28th, a forest ranger found Jack Madruga’s car abandoned the car on an unpaved road near Oroville, in the Rogers Cow camp area, past Elke Retreat, at an elevation of 4,500 feet. The turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego was located around a 2.5-hour drive from Chico, in the opposite direction from the route they would have been expected to drive home and way up in the mountains in the Plumas National Forest.


Police found no evidence of foul play at the site of the car, but the car was unlocked, one window was down and the keys were nowhere to be seen. Candy wrappers, milk cartons and basketball programs were in the car but maps were left in the glove compartment. There was no obvious damage to the car despite the bumpy unmade road, it had around a quarter tank of gas and it was not stuck in the snow. The driver had either used astonishing care and precision, the investigators figured, or else he knew the road well enough to anticipate every rut.

turquoise and white 1969 Mercury Montego

Forest rangers searched the area for five days and found no trace of the men but soon after the search began, a severe blizzard moved into the area, covering any potential tracks. Around nine inches of snow dropped on the upper mountain. The search teams nearly lost men themselves two days later, as their Snow-cats struggled through the drifts. 

A man called Joseph Schons contacted the police after he heard about the disappearance to say he had seen the men between 11:00–12:00 pm on the Friday that the group disappeared. He was driving up the gravel road to his cabin when his car became stuck in the snow and unfortunately whilst trying to push his car out, he suffered a heart attack. The story from here is a little confusing. In one version, whilst he lay in his car, at about 11:30, he saw two sets of headlights coming up behind him - one was a car, and the other a pickup truck. He got out of his car to flag them down. The two cars stopped about 20 feet from him. The passengers then left together in one car. Joseph spent the rest of the night in his car before walking back down the mountain in the morning. In a second more mysterious version, whilst inside the car he heard “whistling” noises and saw what he thought were a group of men and a woman with a baby, walking in the light of another vehicle’s headlights. Schons called for help and the lights turned off and the whistling sounds stopped. A few hours later he saw flashlight beams outside his car and called out for help again, but immediately the lights went out. Schons stayed in his car until it ran out of gas, then walked eight miles down to get help, passing Madruga’s car on the way. He didn’t think much about what he’d seen until he heard about the disappearances.

A woman reported seeing the five men in a red pickup truck on Saturday and Sunday, about an hour’s drive from the site of their abandoned car. She owned a store there, where two of the men came in to buy food. One of them made a phone call from a nearby phone booth, and the other two stayed in the truck.

Then nothing for months as the spring snows melted on the mountains.

In June 1978, a man riding his motorcycle through the area noticed a broken window on a forest service trailer. The trailer was located about 19 miles up the mountain from where the car was found. 19 miles in heavy snow is quite a hike without proper equipment.

A forest service Snowcat ran up the road to the trailer on February 23rd, leaving a packed path in the snow that the men might have followed.

American Dyatlov pass case map

Inside the trailer, he found the body of Ted Weiher. Search and rescue teams then began combing the area around the trailer.

The day after Weiher's body was discovered, searchers found the remains of Madruga and Sterling. They lay on opposite sides of the road to the trailer, 11.4 miles from the car. Madruga had been partially eaten by animals and dragged about 10 feet to a stream: he lay face up, his right hand curled around his watch. Sterling was in a wooded area, scattered over about 50 feet. There was nothing left of him but bones.

Two days later, just off the same road but much closer to the trailer, Jackie Huett's father found his son's backbone along with a pair of Levis and ripple-soled "Get Theres" shoes. An assistant sheriff from Plumas County found a skull the next day, about 100 yards downhill from the rest of the bones which the family dentist used to identify the remains.

Huett's remains were located northeast of the trailer, like Sterling's and Madruga's. Northwest of the trailer, about a quarter mile away, searchers found three wool forest service blankets and a two-cell flashlight lying by the side of the road. The flashlight was slightly rusted and had been turned off. It was impossible to tell just how long it had been there.

They found no sign of Gary Mathias. His tennis shoes were inside the forest service trailer, which suggested to investigators that he might have taken them off to put on Weiher's leather shoes - particularly since Weiher had bigger feet, and Mathias' feet might have swollen with frostbite. 

Although the men’s bodies were heavily decomposed, autopsy results determined that they had likely died from exposure.

It appeared that Ted had lived 8-13 weeks after his disappearance based on the length of his beard and around 100 pound weight loss. He weighed just 120 pounds at the time of his death. Several bed sheets in a shroud were tightly tucked over his body, indicating that someone else had been with him in the trailer as he could not have bundled himself up in this manner. His leather shoes were off, and missing. A table by the bed held his nickel ring with "Ted" engraved on it, his gold necklace, his wallet (with cash inside) and a gold Waltham watch, its crystal missing, which the families say had not belonged to any of the five men. Ted's feet were also badly frostbitten.

But then the story takes an even stranger turn. Inside the trailer, authorities found heavy clothing, matches, playing cards, books, wooden furniture, and other materials which could have easily been used to start a fire. But there had been no apparent attempt to start a fire despite the freezing temperature on the mountain. A propane tank connected to the trailer, which could have provided a ready source of heat and cooking fuel, was untouched. "All they had to do was turn that gas on," says Yuba County Lt. Lance Ayers, "and they'd have had gas to the trailer, and heat."

In a storage shed outside, there was a year’s supply of c-rations. These were individual canned, pre-cooked, and prepared meals issued to the U.S. military. The men consumed 36 of the meals, but left the majority of them untouched. In addition, there was a huge supply of freeze-dried meals. One of the c-ration cans had been opened with an Army P38 can opener.

"Bizarre," says John Thompson, the special agent from the California Department of Justice who had joined the investigation. "And no explanations. And a thousand leads. Every day you've got a thousand leads."

"There was some force that made em go up there." Jack Madruga's mother Mabel says firmly. "They wouldn't have fled off in the wood like a bunch of quail. We know good and well that somebody made them do it. We can't visualize someone getting the upper hand on those five men, but we know it must have been." "They seen something at that game, at the parking lot," says Ted Weiher's sister-in-law. "They might have seen it and didn't even realize they seen it."

There are many questions about this weird case.

Why did the men get lost that night and end up on the mountain?

Chico to Yuba City is a straight down Highway 70 through the Central Valley in low lying land with no snow at this time of the year. A 46 mile drive, around one hour. The car was found several thousand feet up in an area above the snow line in a completely different direction. Why did they abandon the trip to Yuba? Were the forced to go up the Bucks Lane on the way to Palmetto City, did they decide themselves to take a detour or someone did they take a wrong turn? 

What happened around the car?

The group's car was left open, with gas in the tank and in working order. Did they somehow leave the car and lose the keys. This could explain the strange story told by Joseph Schons where he said he saw flashlights around a car. Could they have been searching in the snow and been freaked out by his cars for help in this isolated area?

How did the group end up around a trailer 19 miles from the car?

Ted Weiher was found in a trailer 19 miles from the car and Madruga, Sterling, and Huett were found in the locality but several miles away. How did they walk in normal shoes without outdoor clothing so far in snow several feet thick? Were the group together and then decided to separate after Ted's death to try and find help?

Why did Ted Weiher apparently starve to death?

Some of the rations in and around the trailer were eaten but much of it was untouched. Ted apparently had a slow and agonising death from starvation having lost over half his body weight. With so much food close by why wasn't he eating. Had the group been abducted and the perpetrator was preventing access to food or was Ted suffering from gangrene caused by frostbite.


Further analysis

A good video by John Lordan Brain Scratch published Jan 5th 2018

Derrick Engebretson - Strange disappearances from U.S. forests

Derrick Engebretson, disappeared December 5th, 1998, Rocky Point Area, Winema National Forest, Klamath County, Oregon.

Derrick Engebretson disappearance

On the afternoon of December 5th, 1998,  Derrick Engebretson, aged 8, Dad Robert and 64-year-old grandfather, Bob, set out for a densely wooded mountainside above Upper Klamath Lake near Pelican Butte, about 30 miles from downtown Klamath Falls. This was the last day Derrick was ever seen. 

Derrick was also known as "Bear Boy" because of his love of the outdoors. When he was a week old, his mother put him in a pack and carried him along on a bear hunt. He grew up hunting with his father and mushroom-picking with his mother's father. He'd been to Pelican Butte on several of those mushroom expeditions.

Upper Klamath Lake is a large, shallow freshwater lake east of the Cascade Range in south-central Oregon. Pelican Butte is a steep-sided dormant shield volcano and it is located 28 miles (45 km) due south of Crater Lake and rises over 3,800 feet above the shore of the lake.

pelican butte, Upper Klamath Lake, oregon

The Engebretson family hadn't planned to go to the woods that year to go christmas tree hunting. Lori, Robert's wife, had talked him into using an artificial tree that year despite the fact that he was an enthusiastic outdoorsman who always looked forward to the family's annual Christmas tree hunt. Lori wanted less mess, but when a disabled neighbour asked for a real tree, Robert headed off into the forest.

Pelican Butte Trail

As Bob's red Toyota pickup climbed the Westside Road, Robert remembers telling his father they couldn't hang around as. it was already after 2 pm, and it would be getting dark around 4pm since it was late in the year. Bob pulled onto a turnout at Milepost 12, on the way to Rocky Point Resort. Robert helped Derrick get into his blue snowsuit, and the three of them started up an embankment into the pine forest. Robert walked ahead of the other two, telling Derrick to stay with his grandfather.

As Derrick chopped at small trees with his hatchet he nagged his grandfather that he wanted to catch up with his dad. The grandfather eventually relented and then he was gone. 

About 3 pm with the darkness closing in, Robert and Bob met up and asked each other "Where's Derrick?" Robert remembers asking. "I thought he was with you," Bob said. "He was with you!" Robert turned and sprinted back up the hill as heavy, wet snow fell steadily. He shouted out for Derrick but there was no response

At 4.13pm, Robert flagged down a man driving along the road, Fred Heins , asking him to dial 911 to call for help from the authorities. Heins makes the call from the resort two miles from the area of Derrick's disappearance.

Throughout the night and for the next two weeks, hundreds of people searched through snow several feet thick, looking for Derrick on foot and using snowmobiles and dogs. Lori built a bonfire at the turnout, sleeping in a donated camper van, hoping Derrick would see it and come to her. Delirious from lack of sleep, she once thought she saw Derrick walk out of the woods toward her, waving and smiling. But it was not to be.

In the hours immediately after Derrick's disappearance, Robert and other members of the family found Derrick's tracks in the newly fallen snow. The boy's small boot prints made a short loop from the spot where Robert had last seen him to a clearing near the road, where Derrick had lain down to make a snow angel. Unfortunately, a snowplow had come by, obliterating the tracks that led away from the angel.  No tracks led from the angel back toward the woods. The cuts Derrick had cut in the trees with his hatchet were confined to a small area near the road. Robert felt certain his son hadn't walked back into the trees. By early evening the snow was estimated at 5 to 8 inches on Rocky Point.

A candy wrapper and a make shift lean-to shelter made out of branches were discovered but it was unclear whether they were related to Derrick. Family members were convinced that Derrick had made his way to the road and might have been picked up by a stranger. But the sheriff discounted those concerns.

A hole in the ice was discovered in the lake by Bob during the search, and a child's footprint on the bank. Divers searched the next day and an additional search was done in the area during the spring thaw. No luck.

The official search ended eight days after Derrick disappeared, when Klamath County authorities told Lori and Robert that their son was likely dead. Robert, Lori and at least 100 volunteers stayed on the mountain for another seven days. Speculation deepened that Derrick had been abducted. On Dec. 18, 1998, sub-zero temperatures forced the Engebretsons to end the search but every weekend for the next two years, Robert drove straight from his graveyard shift at work to the mountain, meeting Lori. They kept a map marking areas where they'd searched. 

There was plenty of criticism of the search and rescue effort as many believed authorities had been slow to get to the the scene the night that Derrick disappeared. The search was not started for nearly five hours after the first 911 call by the passing motorist, because the coordinator was reluctant to interrupt the Christmas dinner for Klamath County Search and Rescue team annual awards dinner at Mollie's restaurant until he was sure a rescue was actually warranted. 

Robert and Bob both passed polygraphs, but some in the community were convinced that they may have murdered Derrick or been negligent in some way. Robert couldn't speak to his father. He blamed himself for not finding Derrick, but he blamed Bob for losing him. Bob Engebretson was too racked with guilt to even talk about it.  Robert had taken a lot of time off work. At the same time, the couple had spent thousands of dollars searching for Derrick, paying for psychics and a boat to search Klamath Lake. Eventually, they went bankrupt.

Authorities insisted that Derrick had wandered off into the woods and died, that animals had scattered his remains. But the Engebretson family never really believed that, especially as no evidence had been found such as bones or torn clothing. This was supported by a witness who said he'd seen a man struggling with a boy along a nearby highway. 

Then in 1999, some graffiti was scrawled on a rest-area bathroom wall near Burns which said Derrick had been killed and buried. But the FBI insisted it was a hoax.  A boy named Derrick who was found in Texas under unusual circumstances looked a lot like the Engebretsons' son but proved to be someone else. A bone discovered in Pelican Butte in 2000, turned out to be from a deer after a wait of several days to confirm its identity.

In late 2001, a handwritten letter arrived in the family mailbox. It said, "I know who took your son." In July 11, 2000, Frank J. Milligan, a 31-year-old state youth authority worker, approached a 10-year-old boy at a Dallas park and offered the boy $100 to mow his lawn. When the boy reached Milligan's car, the man said to him "Do you want to live or die?" Milligan bound the boy's hands with duct tape and then stopped the car just north of Salem and forced the boy to walk down a dirt road and sexually assaulted him. Milligan choked the boy and pushed his face into the dirt so hard he blacked out. He cut the child's throat and left him for dead.  But against the odds, the boy woke up, covered with blood and got to a road where a passing motorist stopped to help. At the time of the attack, Milligan was out on bail from the Clatsop County Jail, accused of a 1997 sexual attack on an 11-year-old boy in Seaside. Detectives tracked him down, and he eventually pleaded guilty in both cases.

Months later, Milligan's cellmate wrote a letter to police and the Engebretsons saying that Milligan had confessed to abducting and killing Derrick. It arrived at the Engebretson home in late 2001.

An Oregon State Police detective who had investigated the Dallas case and others confronted Milligan. Milligan confessed to killing Derrick and agreed to lead detectives to the body.

Lori and Robert drove five hours to Silver Falls State Park southeast of Salem and waited as the FBI used ground-penetrating radar to scan for Derrick's bones. After several days of searching they came up with nothing. But a Marion County assistant district attorney told the Engebretsons that Milligan had agreed to plead guilty to killing Derrick if they agreed to spare him the death penalty. But when Milligan faced the paperwork a few days later, he refused to sign.

One theory was that the boy's hatchet would be in the lake if he had fallen in. If a hatchet were found in the sediment of the inlet, it could indicate that the boy died there. Portland diver Jeff Preece spent several hours carefully working his way through the shallow water using a metal detector designed to work underwater. He found several metal objects, including an oil filter and a metal road sign. But no hatchet.

Did Derrick die of cold or from an animal attack as the Sheriff thought or was he abducted by Frank J. Milligan or another paedophile? Or did something else happen on that fateful and sad day in December 1998? A mysterious case for certain.

Sylvia Apps - Strange disappearances from Canadian mountains

Sylvia Apps, disappeared July 8th 2014, Castlecrag Mountain, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Sylvia Apps disappearance

Sylvia Apps, 69, left on a 5 day solo hiking trip on July 8, 2014 to Vancouver Island's Strathcona Park in British Columbia, Canada. She began her hike in the Paradise Meadows area of Mount Washington and was expected back on July 13th,  but was never seen again.

Strathcona Provincial Park is a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Created in 1911, it is the oldest provincial park in BC and the largest on Vancouver Island. The triangular shaped park practically spans the entire width of Vancouver Island, in that it borders on Herbert Inlet off Clayoquot Sound on the Pacific Coast, and extends eastwards to within 10 miles of the sea near Comox.

Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue began searching around Castlecrag Mountain with helicopter support and called after the official search after one week. Search and rescue teams then did targeted searches to ensure the most-likely areas in which Sylvia may be found were checked again.

They found Sylvia's backpack in one location, her walking sticks and camera in another, and her name in the logbook on one of the peaks on the route but were  baffled when they failed to locate Sylvia. Paul Berry, president of the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, said it was the first time they had failed to find someone despite finding all of their belongings. Berry said he believes Apps, who was properly equipped for the hike, likely suffered a medical emergency such as heat stroke and was unable to think clearly while awaiting rescue.

To this day, Sylvia's remains have not been found. A baffling case.

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. 

Mary Sloan - Strange disappearances on U.S. mountains

Mary Sloan, disappeared September 3rd 2015, Mount Graham, Arizona

Mary Sloan Mount Graham disappearance

53-year-old Mary Sloan, went on a group trip to Mount Graham in Arizona on September 3, 2015.  The eight of them pitched camp off of a Forest Service access road, not at an established campground and Mary was last seen at around 8.30pm when several of the group left to go to sleep. The site was about a quarter-mile from Grandview Peak Road and about two miles from Riggs Lake and was situated close to a steep cliff. The area is isolated and some way up a curving mountain road.

Mount Graham map

Mary was still dealing with the loss of her husband who passed a few months before the trip.

The next morning Mary was not in her tent and her cell phone, purse and bag were left at the campsite. It appeared that she had not slept in her tent. She had vanished.

A ground search began on September 4th and Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter crews were dispatched on September 6th. Search and rescue personnel from Maricopa, Cochise and Pima counties continued the search along the mountains and cliffs on September 8th. 

Mount Graham grand view peak road

Graham County Search and Rescue Coordinator Lt. Jerry Nelson said rescue teams from multiple agencies combed the area the best they could but could not come up with any evidence of her whereabouts. Cadaver dogs from Maricopa County were used and one appeared to have a hit in the area near the cliff that was the original base of the search. Mountain rappelling teams were called back in and one of the cadaver dogs was also roped down the side of the cliff in an effort to locate Sloan. The cliff area was at about 9,400 feet and dropped down through some catch areas to the base of the mountain at about 3,000 feet.

But, Mary was never found. She had disapapeared off the face of the earth.

What happened on that day in September 2015? The area of the campsite was very isolated so it seems unlikely she was abducted. Did she go to the bathroom or to check out a vista, stumbled and fell off the nearby cliff? Did she intentionally disappear after the loss of her husband? Why did they pitch camp off a service not, not at an established campsite?