Woman still missing in Holy Cross | VailDaily.com

Woman still missing in Holy Cross

J.K. Perry

Special to the DailyMichelle Vanek hasn't been since Saturday, when she stopped to rest just below the peak of Mount of the Holy Cross.

EAGLE COUNTY ” Rescuers failed to find any significant leads Wednesday during a fifth day of searching for 35-year-old Michelle Vanek, a hiker missing in 50-square miles of Holy Cross Wilderness.

“We haven’t gotten a break or clues,” Tim Cochrane of Vail Mountain Rescue said. “Typically in this type of operation something pops up by now.”

That “something” could be discarded clothing, marker arrows, food wrappers or other items that could help find Vanek.

The Lakewood woman vanished Saturday during a hike up Mount of the Holy Cross with a friend. Officials learned the two, who should have been coming off the peak by noon, were an hour or more behind schedule, Cochrane said.

Family and friends determined a watch found Tuesday near the junction of Fall Creek and the Notch Mountain turnoff was not Vanek’s. The news discouraged searchers.

“That was such a crash right there,” Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kim Andree said.

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The family, who milled about the helicopter landing zone at the Edwards soccer fields and Vail Mountain Rescue building across Highway 6, is refusing to talk to the media until Vanek is found, Andree said.

Four to six inches of snow fell Wednesday morning, blanketing the Mount of the Holy Cross and the outlying ridgelines where nearly 100 rescuers were planning to search, Cochrane said. The possibility of snow tracks gave searchers some hope.

“Because of the fresh snow, tracks that are seen would certainly be somebody else’s,” Cochrane said. Early in the morning tracks were spotted from a helicopter but were later determined to be elk prints.

“That’s the attention to detail this search is taking on,” Cochrane said.

Searchers, waiting for the weather to improve in the High Country, explored lower elevations, trail exits and less-traveled “bail-out” routes, Cochrane said. In his experience, he said lost individuals are usually found 2 1/2 miles from the summit.

The cracks, crevices and caves in and near the boulder field directly below the summit could shelter a person, Cochrane said. In the past, lost individuals have shown themselves after hearing helicopters, he said.

Temperatures dropped into the 20s overnight. A photo taken by Vanek’s friend at the base of the summit revealed the woman was better dressed and equipped for survival than officials originally thought. She was wearing thick stretch pants, hiking boots, jacket, gloves and a hat.

The search included four dog teams and three helicopters paid for by Vanek’s family.

“I feel very confident had she been visible and mobile we would’ve spotted her,” Cochrane said.

There is no time limit for the search, Cochrane said. Cochrane and Sheriff Joe Hoy evaluate each day how and whether to continue the search.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado