The search for the hiker last seen near White Pass in October could resume later this month as snow continues to melt on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Search and rescue teams from seven counties spent several weeks last year scouring hundreds of miles for Kris Fowler, a 34-year-old from Ohio who had hiked more than 2,000 miles before the last confirmed sighting at the Kracker Barrel store off Highway 12.
Officials and Fowler’s family believe two bear hunters may have seen Fowler at Blowout Mountain, about 9 miles southwest of Easton in Kittitas County, on Oct. 22. But few clues have emerged since authorities began investigating Oct. 30.
Yakima County sheriff’s office Sergeant Randy Briscoe said he’s organizing a search party with Kittitas County officials that could start as soon as this weekend.
“I’m very grateful and it is encouraging to know that that’s what they had been telling me all along,” Fowler’s stepmother, Sally Guyton Fowler said in a phone call Tuesday from her home in Ohio. “I’m not surprised because so far anything (Briscoe’s) told me they’re going to do, he’s done it.”
Guyton Fowler said she hopes to facilitate a search with local hikers who aren’t officially trained to complement the county teams and can’t join them for liability reasons.
The renewed efforts are taking a little longer than expected, largely because of a stubborn snowpack left from an unusually wet winter. Briscoe said some sections of the trail remain buried under as much 12 feet of snow, but plenty of new areas should be uncovered.
The search remains exceptionally difficult, since Fowler could potentially be anywhere within a vast area. Briscoe plans to deploy as many volunteers as possible during a busy time of year, but it’s hard to know where to begin.
“I hate to say it, but there’s no evidence that shows he was ever on a trail in Yakima County after he came off the trail on the 10th,” Briscoe said.
He tentatively hopes to start at Chinook Pass and head north, or he might also meet up with a team from Kittitas County further north. Guyton Fowler said she’ll defer to local authorities and expects help from members of a Facebook group with more than 6,000 members.
They’ve created a spreadsheet identifying information including areas searched, complete with details of conditions at the time. Both Briscoe and Guyton Fowler welcome any help, so long as people take the proper precautions.
“Just remember that they need to follow all their basic survival skills,” said Briscoe. “Be prepared to spend the night. Dress appropriately. Wear sunscreen, bug repellent. Worry about yourself before you can start worrying about others. Tell somebody where you’ve going.”
He added searchers should always carry maps since GPS units might not work, and it’s always better to travel in groups. Guyton Fowler said those unable to join in the search can still help by raising awareness so hikers in the area will know if they see any signs of Fowler, such as his missing equipment.
The deaths of two family members close to Kris last month kept Guyton Fowler from being as engaged as she would have liked and will likely prevent her from making another trip to Washington in the near future. Still, she plans to return “when the time is right” and continues to receive messages every day from people hoping for news of her stepson.
“The dedication, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “It means the world to all of us and it helps us get through it.”
What to look for
Kris Fowler had a black backpack with wide orange panels on the sides, a green sleeping pad wrapped in a bright blue tarp, dark blue Eddie Bauer jacket, brown cargo pants, sandals, a digital watch, a couple of multicolored beanies and bandannas, a pair of tennis shoes, an cell phone, a Solo Stove “Light,” fingerless gloves and possibly neoprene gloves and neoprene toe socks.
If you find any of these items, leave them there, take pictures, note your coordinates and contact local authorities. For Yakima County, call Sgt. Randy Briscoe at 509-574-2535. You can remain anonymous.