Search for hiker ends |

Search for hiker ends

A rescue crew seeking missing hiker Michelle Vanek walks out of the Holy Cross Wilderness on the Cross Creek Trail near Minturn on Saturday. (Bret Hartman/Vail Daily)

EDWARDS ” The search for a hiker who has been missing for a week in the Holy Cross Wilderness was called off Saturday night after about 200 searchers failed to find the 35-year-old Lakewood woman.

The Vail Mountain Rescue Group, under Eagle County Sheriff Joseph Hoy, decided further searches for Michelle Vanek would not likely lead to her discovery, said Bill Kaufman, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

“We are positive that Michelle’s spirit remains in our hearts and the Vail valley,” family friend and spokesman Bob Davis said in a news release. “She now walks with God.”

Vanek, a mother of four, was last seen on Sept. 24 when she stopped to rest while her hiking companion continued to the peak of the 14,005-feet summit. She was gone when he returned.

“It’s a true mystery,” search leader Tim Cochrane said. “Typically by now we have some sort of clue or evidence indicating direction of travel, where someone might have taken shelter.”

Eagle County sheriff’s detectives were still investigating, though there was no indication of foul play, Kaufman said.

Earlier Saturday, Cochrane said Vanek, who was already tired and thirsty when she went missing, might have followed a snowfield away from the trail and toward the Half Moon Campground, where her friend had parked his car. Cochrane said it appears to be a good way out but it contains a 60-foot drop and dead-end ledges.

The area also is covered by tall pine trees, which would block the view of search and rescue helicopters.

Kaufman said 100 search and rescue team members and 100 volunteers participated in the search Saturday. They began heading out before dawn to fan out over the Mount of the Holy Cross in one of the largest searches of its kind in Colorado.

“I think it’s unprecedented to have 200 searchers on one mountain,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman said the trained rescue teams focused on the boulder fields above timberline, which are strewn with rocks the size of cars and refrigerators.

He said the volunteers divided into small groups of about 10 each, and team leaders were given radios to keep in touch. The volunteers also searched forested areas below tree line.

About 50 searchers camped in the area Saturday night, but were to return Sunday.

“We are overwhelmed by the numbers of volunteers, their compassion and commitment,” Davis said. “It renews our faith in humanity.”

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