By Bryan Cohen
National Park Service rangers have suspended the search for a missing Seattle hiking enthusiast and author after finding the body of a woman in the search area around Mount Rainier, park officials told Reuters on Saturday.
The body had not been identified, pending an investigation by the local medical examiner’s office, said Mount Rainier National Park spokeswoman Patti Wold. There were no missing person reports aside from that of 70-year old Karen Sykes in the park at the time, Wold said.
Sykes, who is considered an authority on outdoor recreation in the Pacific Northwest for her newspaper articles and books on hiking in and around the park, has been missing since she disappeared on a trail near Mount Rainier late Wednesday night, park officials said.
She and a companion had set out together on the 8-mile Owyhigh Lakes Trail on Wednesday but split up when they reached a portion of that was covered in snow.
Sykes continued on by herself and her companion turned back, the Park Service said. When she did not return to the specified meeting point, the companion called authorities.
Ground teams had been scouring the trail prior to the suspension of the search on Saturday afternoon. Roughly 60 people took part over the three-day search, including a dog unit and helicopter crew, officials said.
The search was concentrated in a steep, rugged section of the trail between 4,500 and 6,500 feet (1,372 to 1891 meters) in elevation, the Park Service said in a statement.
"If you're walking along that trail, you won't necessarily see the trail because of the snow," park spokeswoman Mimi Gorman said.
Early summer is a particularly dangerous time for hiking on snowy terrain, Gorman said, as warmer weather creates snow bridges where the snow pack thaws from below, leaving patches where hikers can break through as they walk across the surface.
According to park officials, Sykes was equipped with adequate survival gear to stay overnight on the mountain in case of an emergency.
According to her website, Sykes has been writing about hiking on Mount Rainier since 1979, including her book "Hidden Hikes in Western Washington."
There have been six deaths at Mount Rainier National Park this year, Gorman said, but none have involved hiking or climbing.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)