‘Baffling’ search for missing climber near Maroon Bells remains fruitless

David Cook

Search crews spent a chilly, rainy day Wednesday using dogs trained to detect human remains to try to find an Albuquerque, New Mexico, man missing in the area of the Maroon Bells for more than a year.

But for the third time this year, they came up empty. No signs of David Cook, 49, or clues as to his whereabouts were discovered, according to a statement from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

The news was particularly frustrating for Cook’s wife, Maureen, who said Wednesday she’s been planning the first memorial service for her husband — scheduled for Friday — since he disappeared.

“It’s a hard thing to hear about, … that the search didn’t produce any results,” Maureen Cook said. “You get your hopes up every time they do a search.”

Wednesday’s operation followed similar efforts in July — when aerial searches of North and South Maroon peaks and Pyramid Peak were conducted — and in August, when three search-and-rescue organizations as well as dogs looked for the experienced climber.

On Wednesday, volunteers with Mountain Rescue Aspen — who searched for Cook on the ground and from the air for eight days after he went missing Sept. 20, 2016 — identified three areas that had been searched aerially and with ground teams but not with dogs, Pitkin County Deputy Grant Jahnke said.

Those areas included Fravert Basin, Lost Remuda Basin and the amphitheater below Pyramid Peak’s north face, according to the statement. MRA volunteers assisted handlers from Colorado Forensic Canines in searching those areas, beginning at 7 a.m., and all the teams were out of the field by 3:30 p.m., the statement says.

The Sheriff’s Office is not planning any other searches for David Cook, unless further information develops, Jahnke said.

“There’s really nothing we haven’t searched yet,” he said. “Mountain Rescue has spent probably 1,000 hours searching, so we’ve been thorough, that’s for sure.”

Cook was last seen by a U.S. Forest Service employee the morning of Sept. 20, 2016, near Maroon Lake. He was planning to solo climb one or all of the three peaks — the Maroon Bells or Pyramid Peak — and maps of the routes up all three were found in his car.

The lack of knowing what happened to her husband has been hard to take, Maureen Cook said.

“We did have hope for so long – not only that he would come home, but that they’d find him,” she said. “Now I just want to know what happened and where he is.

“There’d be some comfort in that.”

Maureen Cook said she and her three children — two daughters, 15 and 8 years old, and her 13-year-old son — were in Aspen last week and are aware of the large number of deaths on Aspen area peaks and in the backcountry this summer.

“It’s baffling they can’t find him,” Maureen Cook said. “The others, they go up in a helicopter and they’re able to find them.”

It’s all the more baffling, she said, because her husband was an experienced mountaineer and former rock-climbing guide who was meticulous in his climbing preparations and decisions.

“He wasn’t somebody trying to bag 58 peaks,” Maureen Cook said.

Still, the family enjoyed their time in Aspen, and went hiking around the Maroon Bells area, she said.

“It was nice to be up there last week and spend time with Dave,” Maureen Cook said.

The family is very grateful for both volunteer searchers’ repeated efforts and the response her family has received from the community, she said.

“People have been so gracious and hospitable up in Aspen,” Maureen Cook said. “You really feel that sense of community up there.”

Her husband’s memorial is scheduled to take place Friday in the village of Corrales where they live — located just north of Albuquerque along the banks of the Rio Grande River. It’s the first memorial they’ve held for him, she said.

“The kids and I just weren’t ready (before),” Maureen Cook said.

Cook’s obituary and information about the memorial service is posted online at

“He was a great dad, a great husband and a great friend,” she said.