Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

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October 12, 2010
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Hiker still missing in Holy Cross area

VAIL, Colorado - Rescue teams were still looking for missing hiker James Nelson as of Monday evening.

"We didn't find anybody today," Vail Mountain Rescue Group mission coordinator Dan Smith said. "We'll be searching tomorrow."

No one has heard from Nelson, 31, from Chicago, since he set out on Oct. 3 for a five-day, 25-mile hike in the Holy Cross Wilderness.

His fiance reported him missing Friday evening.

On Monday, 48 volunteers from the Vail Mountain Rescue Group and mountain rescue teams from neighboring counties searched in and around Nelson's proposed hiking route, Smith said.

Nelson had planned to start at Half Moon campground, follow Fall Creek Trail past Lake Constantine, over Fall Creek Pass and past Holy Cross City, Smith said. Nelson then planned to hike Fancy Pass Trail over Fancy Pass and continue downstream along Cross Creek Trail. Nelson had intended to hike up East Cross Creek, then follow Half Moon Pass trail back to the parking lot.

Smith said rescue workers don't know if Nelson attempted to climb Mount of the Holy Cross. He had been considering it, Smith said.

"Holy Cross is right in the center of that route," he said. "If he decided to summit Holy Cross, there are several places where he could do it. It's a search option we're looking at."

Nelson may have encountered snow over the weekend. Smith said anywhere from a trace of snow to 6 inches fell in the Holy Cross Wilderness Saturday and Sunday, depending on the location.

Those conditions can make hiking more challenging.

"It makes it more difficult to say warm, to stay hydrated and easier to hurt yourself," Smith said.

Nelson set out on the hike alone. A fellow hiker spotted him a few miles from the trailhead on Oct. 3 but no one has seen him since, Smith said. Nelson is equipped with proper gear and supplies but does not have a cell phone.

While Nelson is an experienced hiker, this is his first hike in Eagle County. He has been involved in the Chicago Backpackers Meetup Group since 2006. The group's Web site says the club's primary focusing in backpacking. The club also "helps introduce people who are new to backpacking to the sport, organize trips for members, and encourage networking amongst backpackers" the site says.

Rescue workers searched for Nelson from 6:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Monday. Two helicopters from the Colorado National Guard High Altitude Aviation Training Center dropped off rescue teams in the wilderness and searched for Nelson. The Eagle County Sheriff's Office also led the effort.

Rescue workers on Monday searched the cliff bands above Cross Creek, scoured the Holy Cross City area extensively and searched the Halo route to Holy Cross, among other areas, Smith said.

"The area bounded by his route is where we're looking," Smith said. "There are a number of natural barriers that drive him inside that route - ridges, ravines, creeks."

When a search by 28 volunteers from Vail Mountain Rescue failed to turn up Nelson over the weekend, rescue workers submitted a request through the Colorado Search and Rescue Board for additional assistance.

Nelson is lost in the same wilderness area in which Front Range resident Michelle Vanek disappeared in 2005. She was not found, despite a massive search that last several days.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Oct 12, 2010 01:54AM Published Oct 12, 2010 01:49AM Copyright 2010 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.