VAIL, Colorado - After a fourth day of searching turned up no clues about missing hiker James Nelson on Tuesday, leaders of the rescue operation called off the search.
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy and leaders of Vail Mountain Rescue had planned to officially suspend the search at midnight.
"The decision to suspend the search for James was extremely difficult," Hoy said in the release. "Search and rescue teams have scoured all of the terrain that could safely be searched on foot, some of it searched several times, in addition to the extensive aerial search with no results."
Nelson, 31, of Chicago, set out on Oct. 3 for a five-day, 25-mile hike in the Holy Cross Wilderness.
His fiancee reported him missing Friday evening.
On Tuesday, 17 volunteers continued the search for Nelson, mission coordinator Dan Smith said. Fog, rain and snow grounded search helicopters in the morning but three teams rode in vehicles into the area and searched on foot. The weather cleared up enough around 1 p.m. for the helicopters to drop off another search team in the wilderness, Smith said.
Over the past four days, 116 people searched for more than 1,000 hours for Nelson. After finding no signs of Nelson in and around his planned route, rescue workers started looking outside the route Tuesday. They scoured Holy Cross ridge, north Notch Mountain and the area bordered by Fancy and French creeks but found no clues.
Nelson had planned to start his hike 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. He had been considering climbing Mount of the Holy Cross, Smith said earlier.
Vail resident Lesley Buttars said she and her husband saw Nelson on Oct. 3 on the Fall Creek Trail. She didn't talk to him but noticed he had a lot of gear on his back. She said he turned at a clearing and headed toward Lake Constantine.
"I thought to myself it was a bit odd he wasn't a little bit more deliberate in his walking," Buttars recalled. "He was just kind of moseying along but maybe he was just taking in things. I definitely wouldn't say he appeared lost."
She was saddened to hear that no signs of him have surfaced.
"It breaks my heart, it really does," she said.
Several different agencies helped with the search. Colorado National Guard High Altitude Aviation Training Center, TriState CareFlight, Alpine Rescue Team, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Summit County Search and Rescue, Garfield County Search and Rescue and the Eagle Valley Religious Foundation responded.
At an altitude of 9,000 to 14,000 feet, the Holy Cross Wilderness includes some of the most rugged terrain in Colorado, the release said. Experts in the field discourage people from searching on their own.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.