Officials ask hunters to help find Holy Cross-area hiker
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado – Colorado wildlife officials have asked hunters and hikers to help them discover the fate of a Chicago man who has been missing since last fall, hoping someone will find clues that will give the family closure.
Officials said James Nelson, 31, was dropped off at the Fall Creek trailhead on Oct. 3 at the start of a 25-mile hike into some of Colorado’s most challenging terrain. His fiancee planned to pick him up at the trailhead five days later, but he never showed up.
Dozens of hikers go missing in Colorado every year, but most are found by volunteer search groups or specially trained rescuers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said authorities rarely call for outside help, but the hiker’s father asked.
“This is not a routine practice, but this is not in a place where people usually go,” Porras said.
Dan Smith, of the Vail Mountain Rescue Group, said Nelson is one of two people missing on the trail. Michelle Vanek, a mother of four from Denver, disappeared in 2005 and rescuers have long since abandoned the search. He said many people try to go on dangerous hikes on Colorado’s mountainous terrain and get into serious trouble.
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“This is not Disney World. If you get in trouble, I can’t turn off the ride,” he said.
The father told wildlife officials that his son was well-prepared for an extended hike.
“He knew what he was doing, and we can only imagine that he had an accident of some kind,” Jim Nelson said in a statement.
Friends and family reported that before he left on his trip, he was prepared and followed many of the recommended rules of hiking in the backcountry. He packed the necessary supplies and he was careful to let several people know where he was planning to hike by mapping his route.
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.
Rescue workers don’t know if Nelson attempted to climb Mount of the Holy Cross. He had been considering it.
A pair of hikers reported that they had seen a man matching Nelson’s description on Oct. 3. Then he vanished.
Trained search and rescue dogs seemed to pick up Nelson’s scent off a trail near Lake Constantine on Nelson’s planned route, said Smith. But no trace of Nelson was ever located, despite an intense four-day search with helicopters, search and rescue crews and trained dogs.
Porras said there was no indication of foul play.
Rescuers say they are counting on hunters because Colorado’s big-game rifle season is just weeks away.
“Hunters head into off-trail areas that most hikers avoid. We’re asking that they keep an eye peeled for evidence that could help bring closure to Mr. Nelson’s family,” Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said in a statement.
They’re asked to look for discarded hiking equipment, an abandoned tent or human remains, and if they find anything, mark the location, take photos and report it.
Porras said hunters have helped solve several high-profile cases. In 2007, a Colorado hunter found the body of an Alzheimer’s patient who had been missing for month. The hunter found the remains seven miles from the missing man’s home in Cotopaxi.