Hiker missing on Holy Cross
September 27, 2005
EAGLE COUNTY ” A massive search is underway for a woman feared missing in the Holy Cross Wilderness after a Saturday hike up to the area’s namesake peak.
Michelle Vanek, 35, of Lakewood stopped to rest in the rock field below the 14,005-feet summit while her friend climbed to the top.
Upon return, the friend was unable to locate Vanek and called authorities. The unnamed man then continued to search for his the woman.
No foul play is suspected, said Kim Andree, spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
On Tuesday afternoon, search personnel found a watch hanging from a tree branch at Fall Creek and the turnoff for Notch Mountain. Search officials were waiting for family and friends to identify whether the watch is Vanek’s.
“The watch is the hot spot right now,” said Tim Cochrane of Vail Mountain Rescue.
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Dogs were dispatched to the area and have been used in other locations to determine Vanek’s whereabouts.
“We’ve got a heck of a day going on,” Cochrane said Tuesday. “There’s been a helluva influx of people, but it was a little overwhelming.”
More than 100 searchers, four dog teams and five helicopters were involved in the search. Personnel were searching trails and other areas throughout the Holy Cross Wilderness, while helicopters scanned the landscape from above.
“They’ve flown the entire area comprehensively,” Cochrane said. “If she was out in the open, we would have seen her.”
Ground and air teams are expected to continue the search today if Vanek was not found Tuesday evening. Conditions have been uncharacteristically warm and optimal for searching since Saturday, Andree said.
But the wilderness area was battered by rain, wind and lightening Tuesday afternoon, making the search difficult for rescuers on foot and helicopter pilots in the air, Cochrane said.
The temperature in Vail Tuesday night was expected to drop to 32 degrees, as forecasted by the National Weather Service. Temperatures at higher elevations are usually colder than those in the valley.
Vanek’s chances of survival depend upon a mix of elements, including weather, authorities said.
Andree said Vanek was dressed in stretch pants, windbreaker and ball cap. Her water supply was minimal, but natural sources of water exist on the mountain, she said.
Family and friends said Vanek is “strong-willed,” “stubborn” and athletic. Although Holy Cross was her first attempt at a 14,000-feet peak, Vanek has competed in multiple triathlons.
Vanek’s mother Judy Cheeney remained optimistic Vanek would survive.
“We have a lot of faith in God and that God will help us through this,” she said.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or