UPDATE 10/2: This is likely the last update for this entry. The search has been called off and I think it was the right decision. My understanding is that Ben and his family were involved and I am sure it was just awful. There were 300 or so very dedicated people who went on the search. I think we were all hopeful we might somehow find Michelle alive, but I think we all knew the reality of the situation. The area we searched was about 8.5 miles from the trailhead, followed by a trudge through a swamp and then 500 feet of vertical straight up to look under cliff faces and boulders. Mentally I had prepared myself for the task, but when it came to it, everytime I thought I saw something and looked in a crevice I wanted to get sick. Much of the walk back in total darkness.
I am really sad and I am really sorry that we couldn't help at least give the Vanek's closure.
I have seen and heard some people speculate that something funky happened between Michelle and her companion. I don't think so. This was a tragedy of errors. I am not about to pile on because this is something we all have to live with. The facts are that they took a very circuitous route to the top. Michelle got tired about 500 feet short of the summit. She rested and probably insisted that her companion go ahead and summit. She was supposed to meet him a few hundred yards away at the foot of the trail they would take for their descent (which was a different trail than the one they took up). They were at 13,500ft at 3PM. They were probably both tired. Michelle did not make it to the vendezvous point which was across one of the boulder fields. Her companion went back to where he left her. He searched for her, and ultimately raced down and got help.
They made errors, and unfortunately at that altitude and in that environment small errors are magnified. Truly terrible things happen and as one friend said to me today, they can happen with only very small steps over the line. There are very difficult lessons to be learned and if nothing else I hope we and others can absorb them.
UPDATE 9/30: Tomorrow's effort is expected to be the largest search effort in Colorado history. As cool as that sounds I am nervous. It is going to be a very long, very hard day. Everyone in the neighborhood is chipping in, carpools, childcare, you name it. I am not looking forward to this but know we have to go in and we have to find Michelle or at least some clues. If we're searching the boulder field as described, I am hoping most of all for clues that will lead to finding Michelle alive. Finding her in the boulder field itself doesn't bode well for a happy ending I'm sad to say, but I'm remaining optimistic that we will find clues that will help us bring her home.
If you are planning to come up, please call 970.376.7047, ask for Dina. My understanding is that they need about 300 people total for the boulder field. If you're up for a long hike and a steep steep incline, be prepared with good gear lots of food and water and a headlamp because we may be coming out after dark.
UPDATE 9/29: There wasn't any real news today. I'd like to thank Sen. Wayne Allard's office for getting additional air resources in today, and also say thanks to the pros and very experienced volunteers who have gone in. I'd like to add that a good number of these volunteers don't know Michelle personally but have committed themselves regardless. I did not make it up to the high country today as the word was that they needed very experienced personnel up there. Despite good intentions and sturdy legs, I have limited backcountry experience and I have the impression that we would have been in the way today, or worse, become a liability.
What I do understand is that Michelle and her friend took a more circuitous, and apparently steeper - more exposed - route to the summit than is the norm. There were 22 hikers going up to Holy Cross last Saturday and I think all of them save, Michelle and her friend, went the typical route. This certainly helps explain why we haven't seen her, because when you look at the maps and understand the terrain, it is really easy to see how she could have missed the right drop in point and ended up very far away from her companion.
The crews had some renewed optimism today as the weather did clear, with a warming trend through the weekend. That said, if you're planning to help out on Saturday in particular (though hopefully unnecessary), be prepared for some *very* rough going. Sturdy boots, good hiking pants (no blue jeans, you want something that can get wet and breathe really well) a good all weather coat (ski jacket), hat, helmet if you have one, ski gloves, plenty of water and food, a whistle, and be prepared for a lot of steep climbs.
We are remaining optimistic, and know that we will find her. People have come out of longer stays in similar climates. The best hope is that Michelle has found some shelter (and there are lots of nooks and crannies), probably isn't moving very well, and we're simply going to have to find her.
A lot of people are helping in lots of different ways, and it is amazing to see people coming together and pitching in however they can. If nothing else, I know it helps the Vaneks to see that we all care an awful lot and will continue to care and help no matter the outcome.
I am not a religious man, but I believe in the power of positive energy and am saying a prayer for Michelle and hope you all can do the same.
Unfortunately we didn't find Michelle today. My wife and about 15 neighbors went up today along with about 100 other volunteers and professionals. The weather wasn't great and the helos had trouble landing search crews in the alpine areas. The good news is that the weather should be changing, and even better news is that Michelle was better equipped for the elements than previously believed (and crassly commented on by others.) The picture here was taken on the day of the hike and shows she had good equipment with her.
I am planning to go up again tomorrow and help however I can.
A few notes, I took a bunch of media calls today from local outlets. The Vanek's don't want to comment and for the time being want all media inquiries routed through the Eagle County Sheriff's office. That said, there were calls coming to their house which were directed to me. The local press have been very responsible with this story and have respected the Vanek's wish for privacy, with the caveat that any attention that will help bring Michelle home is a good thing, and in that respect the coverage has been very good, very fact based, and effective in helping us bring additional volunteers and resources into action.
Also, there have been additional air resources (I think the majority of which are privately funded) that have been brought to bear, so this is definitely a positive thing and an answer to the title of this post. There have also been a good number of technical volunteers which has been helpful along with a lot of non-technical people willing to walk the valley floors, all of which is greatly appreciated.
Hopefully the next post here will be news that Michelle is safe and resting.
I had not previously listed my friend's name simply because her family had not said so explicitly, until now. Michelle Vanek is missing and there is a very large operation going on to find her. I spent all day today in the wilderness area near Mount of the Holy Cross. The party I was in combed a lot of trailhead both below and above tree line. Unfortunately no one has found her yet. The good news is that the professional and technical search teams were able to rule out the most likely area into which the she could have fatally fallen. The bad news is that we haven't found her and the weather is turning less than pleasant in the high country. That said we remain very optimistic. Michelle is a strong woman, in excellent shape, and certainly has a tremendous will to live. A large contingent from our community are heading up early tomorrow to continue the search efforts, and the local media have begun really reporting on this story.
What strikes you though as you trudge into this area is just how large the wilderness area is (which might be obvious from the pictures...if it weren't for the circumstances, this was a hike through some really stunning scenery.) From a saddle at about 12,000 feet we spied some deer moving through a boulder field that appeared very close. After seeing the deer and how small they seemed, it occured to us just how big a place we were searching. Moreover, I found that in certain areas you couldn't see or hear people who were within 20 yards of you. However on the positive side we have a lot of people pitching in and we all want her to come home very much. If you can do nothing else, please think a positive thought for Michelle and let's hope she comes home with nothing more than an extraordinary story to tell.
On the title of this entry, we are hoping the state can get additional air resources on the scene. There are currently two choppers working the area, and anything more that can be put into this effort is greatly appreciated.
My neighbor and friend is the mother of 4 lovely kids, 2 of whom are close with my two oldest.
Michelle was last seen on Saturday afternoon. She was climbing the Mount of the Holy Cross in Eagle County, Colo. She got separated from her climbing partner and has not been seen since.
This is not a technical climb I am told. However she has been exposed to the elements for 2 full nights, and it is now looking like a third. I don't know all of the details, and I do not believe she was equipped for an overnight stay.
I am told that search and rescue is going to cut back on their use of helicopters for this search, I hope I am hearing this in error. The last word I got was that they do need volunteers and as of this writing I am heading up to Vail to help in whatever way they need. I am hoping they will find her quickly and I won't be needed, but in the meantime I am planning to be gone for the next 48 hours.
If you can assist in any way, I encourage you to contact the Eagle County Sherriff's office (970) 328-8500.