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Three missing hikers in six months is unprecedented for RMNP search and rescue operations

The two hikers who went missing in late 2018 and the hiker who went missing in early 2019 have yet to be found.

70-year-old James Pruitt’s vehicle was located near the Glacier Gorge Trailhead after his family said they hadn’t heard from him in about a week. Pruitt is still missing and the search for him was suspended in March.
70-year-old James Pruitt’s vehicle was located near the Glacier Gorge Trailhead after his family said they hadn’t heard from him in about a week. Pruitt is still missing and the search for him was suspended in March.

In a six-month time frame from the end of 2018 into early 2019, three people went missing in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)—a rate which the park has not seen its history, according to RMNP Public Information Officer Kyle Patterson.

Despite immense search and rescue efforts with the help of local and statewide agencies, these three people have still not been found.

“The timing of severe weather events significantly hampered these search efforts,” Patterson said.

In early October 2018, 30-year-old Ryan Albert of New Jersey went missing in the Granite Pass area of the park. It was suspected that he was heading towards the Keyhole route on Longs Peak. Search and rescue teams used aerial reconnaissance footage to look for clues of Albert’s whereabouts, though they were not immediately sent out in the field by foot due to harsh weather conditions near Longs Peak.

Ryan Albert was last seen in October 2018.

“Searchers have been facing extreme winter conditions during the search efforts, including deep snow, ice and winds,” Patterson said at the time.

In November, RMNP announced that it would be calling off its active search for Albert until the snow melts and conditions near Longs Peak improve.

Albert is still missing.

Less than a month later another man went missing in the same area of the park.

Micah Tice, 20, from Las Vegas, Nevada, was last heard from on Nov. 23. His vehicle was parked at the Longs Peak Trailhead, though his route or destination was not determined.

Search and rescue team members scoured the Longs Peak area but were again hampered by extreme weather conditions. Again, they utilized aerial imaging but to no avail.

“The park has worked closely with the U.S. Air Force Academy since the beginning of this incident, coordinating investigative and operational assistance, and incorporating a team form the Air Force Academy Mountaineering Club in search efforts,” Patterson wrote in a press release at the time.

She said that snowfall and high winds made obtaining clues of Tice’s whereabouts extremely difficult.

In early December, the park suspended search efforts for Tice until the weather improved.

20-year-old Micah Tice was last heard from on Nov. 23. He is still missing.

Then, in early March, another person went missing and has yet to be found.

James Pruitt, 70, of Tennessee, went missing in the park after leaving his vehicle at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. It had been almost a week since his family last heard from him and when rangers located his vehicle at the trailhead.

“There has been almost two feet of snow accumulation in the Glacier Gorge area since Thursday, Feb. 28,” Patterson said at the time of the search. “The recent snowfall in this mountainous terrain makes finding clues to Pruitt’s whereabouts even more difficult.”

Search efforts for Pruitt were expansive, utilizing support from the Larimer County Search and Rescue team, the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, a dog team from the Larimer County Search and Rescue and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.

Unfortunately, the search for Pruitt was suspended in mid-March.

None of these men have been found.

According to Patterson, RMNP search and rescue teams are accustomed to handling more than 100 incidents each year.

In 2018, 155 search and rescue incidents were reported in the park, with 46 of those being major.

“Major incidents are those that exceed $500 in unprogrammed costs,” Patterson said.

According to the National Park Service, unprogrammed costs are for unscheduled part-time and intermittent employee time.

Over 600 search and rescue incidents have been reported within RMNP bounds in the last four years. Around 150 of those have been deemed major rescue missions.

Nationally, RMNP is usually one of the top five national parks for search and rescue operations.

“In 2017, we were the third-busiest national park for search and rescue operations,” Patterson said.

Though the number of people who need the assistance of a search and rescue team in RMNP is consistently in the hundreds annually, there is not one area where more people need to be rescued than others.

“It’s very uncommon for people to go missing for multiple days,” Patterson said. “But when it has occurred in the past, it’s been in a variety of locations.”

She said that the three names listed above who have yet to be found are the only people who’ve gone missing in the park since 2013 and have not had their bodies recovered.

In recent years, RMNP has shattered its visitation records. And while that doesn’t necessarily have a direct correlation with an increase in search and rescue missions, it does play a role in making RMNP one of parks with the highest volume of annual search and rescue efforts.

“Due to our level of visitation and the recreational activities that visitors partake in, we have always had busy search and rescue operations,” Patterson said. “Because of that, we have some of the most experienced and trained search and rescue professionals in the country.”

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, without the national park service personnel responding to search and rescue incidents at all, on average one in five of those requesting search and rescue assistance would be a fatality.

RMNP has never seen an incident like that of Albert, Pruitt and Tice all having gone missing in such a short time frame. Their rescue efforts are expected to resume once weather conditions begin to improve at higher elevations in the park.