National Park Service rangers mount search for missing Seattle hiking author

By Bryan Cohen

SEATTLE (Reuters) - National Park Service rangers have mounted a search for a prominent Seattle hiking enthusiast and author after she disappeared on a trail near Mount Rainier earlier this week, officials said on Friday.

Karen Sykes, 70, was reported missing by a companion late on Wednesday night when she failed to return from a snow-covered stretch of the Owyhigh Lakes Trail, where she had been hiking alone, park spokeswoman Mimi Gorman said.

Sykes is well known as a local authority on outdoor recreation in the Pacific Northwest for her newspaper articles and books on hiking in and around Mount Rainier National Park.

She and a companion had set out together on the 8-mile trail on Wednesday but split up when they reached a portion of the route that was covered in snow. Sykes continued on by herself and her companion turned back, the Park Service said.

Ground teams have begun scouring the trail, with roughly 60 people taking part in the search on Friday, including a dog unit and helicopter crew, officials said. One person was reported injured in the search.

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," 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. Gorman said there is no timeline for ending the search.

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.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Simon Cameron-Moore)

[Mt. Rainier on Shutterstock]