YAKIMA — Early in May, 31-year-old Kris Fowler began his first steps on a planned 2,660-mile hike from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.
His walk took him through desert, verdant forests, the high Sierras of California and the rugged Goat Rocks east of Yakima. But somewhere north of White Pass, some 2,200 miles from where he started, Fowler disappeared.
Today, a team of searchers plans to continue a second day of looking for Fowler along a 100-mile stretch of the trail between White and Snoqualmie passes, where snowfalls have left the steep terrain a mix of snow and mud.
Fowler was last seen for sure on Oct. 12 in the White Pass area.
Family became worried about last Thursday, after his cellphone provider reported there had been no activity on his phone for the last week.
Sally Guyton Fowler said her stepson has been described as strong, intelligent and a fast hiker. He mapped out the trail, arranged to have packages sent to him at specific locations, where he could use his cellphone to keep in touch with family, she said.
“The deal was every couple of weeks he’d post on Facebook or text and he mostly kept to that,” she said in a phone call from Ohio on Tuesday morning before boarding a flight to Washington state to be close to the search, which is now underway with search and rescue workers and volunteers from Yakima, Kittitas and Pierce counties.
On Tuesday, two hunters said they saw a hiker on Oct. 22 matching Fowler’s description near Blowout Mountain about 35 miles north of Chinook Pass, said Yakima County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Randy Briscoe.
There’s a strong chance the hiker was Fowler, given that he was the last hiker who left White Pass to sign logs along the trail, Briscoe said. “He was supposed to be the last person on the trail heading from White Pass,” he said.
Briscoe said a storm hit the south Cascade Mountains on Oct. 14, bringing up to 2 feet of snow in some areas.
On Tuesday, Briscoe assembled a crew of four to search areas near Chinook Pass.
“They’re prepared to spend the night if they need to,” he said.
Searchers are encountering a mix of mud and snow in areas that are steep and rocky, he said.
“Conditions are really rough, and we’re trying to do everything we can as quickly as possible,” Briscoe said.
Elevations along the trail between White and Chinook passes are above 5,000 feet, a level where snow begins to accumulate, said Jim Matthews, a volunteer trail coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service’s Naches Ranger District, which includes a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.
But the trail isn’t considered difficult through that area and is wide enough that it doesn’t pose a threat of falling off a ridge, he said.
Typically, it takes an experienced hiker a day or a day and a half to hike the 28-mile stretch from White Pass to Chinook Pass, he said.
About 6 inches of snow has accumulated along that stretch of the trial over the past 24 hours, he said, adding that another volunteer reported knee-high snow on 5,430-foot Chinook Pass on Monday.
From Chinook Pass it’s another roughly 70 miles to Snoqualmie Pass.
A store clerk at the Kracker Barrel convenience store on White Pass said she saw Fowler on Oct. 10, when he picked up a couple of packages mailed to him. He said he was following the trail to Canada, clerk Terry Stark said.
“He left here determined to get to Canada,” she said.
About 20 miles west of White Pass, Packwood Inn manager Kimberly Lamontagne said Fowler was found squatting in a trailer around roughly the same time period. He was wearing sandals and said he was cold, she said.
The following night he worked at the hotel to earn a night’s stay, she said.
“Which isn’t uncommon for hikers,” she said.
She said she learned he was missing Monday morning, and assembled a team of locals who know the area well to search for him. They returned at 4 a.m. Tuesday without Fowler.
A team of Pacific Crest Trail hikers on Tuesday left from the hotel to search again, she said. She’s offering free rooms to volunteers helping with the search and their families. “We’re donating rooms until this guy is found,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fowler’s stepmother has been inundated with Facebook messages from other hikers who were on the trail with Fowler.
A Facebook page has been set up to help find him.
She’s had more than 900 visitors, and more than 200 messages.
“Everybody that hiked with him remembers him,” she said.
“They said he was a strong hiker, a smart hiker, and fast hiker, and that he’d often get off the trail to shoot photos.”