Search for missing Mount Rainier hiker focuses on area south of Wonderland Trail’s highest point

Staff writerJuly 15, 2014 

Searchers continued to scour the east side of Mount Rainier on Tuesday in hopes of finding a 64-year-old Tacoma man who failed to return from a Saturday dayhike.

Two helicopters, three dog teams and a 39-person ground crew were searching a 1-mile radius that includes Ohanapecosh Park and Nickel Creek south of Panhandle Gap.

Edwin Birch, 64, was hiking alone on a hilly 19-mile leg of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail when he went missing.

Crews were expected to return from the field by 8 p.m., said Casey Broom, a member of the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, which is assisting the national park with the search.

Panhandle Gap, 6,800 feet above sea level, is the highest point on the Wonderland Trail. It’s common for snow to cover patches of the trail throughout summer. Park rangers recommend route-finding skills in this area where it can be easy to lose the trail.

Ohanapecosh Park (not to be confused with the campground of the same name) has several glacier-fed creeks that drop down the steep slopes east of the trail.

Chinook and Bell 206 helicopters were used to search from the air, but much of the search area is densely forested. The road to Sunrise was closed much of the day to stage the aerial search, but the road reopened when the staging area was moved.

According to park officials, Birch set out from the Box Canyon trailhead early Saturday after dropping his son off at the White River trailhead.

It was their second outing in their attempt to hike the trail around Mount Rainier during a series of trips. The weekend before, they’d made the much flatter journey from Longmire to Box Canyon on the south side of the mountain.

The son told the park his father was trying to lose weight and that they hoped their Wonderland project would improve his conditioning.

The men crossed paths about 3:30 p.m. Saturday about 1.5 miles north of the Indian Bar backcountry camp and about 6,600 feet above sea level. The son told park officials his dad seemed tired but was doing well.

The son reportedly arrived at the car at about midnight, then drove to White River to meet his dad. When his father didn’t show up, the son notified park rangers at 1:30 a.m.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 craig.hill@thenewstribune.com @AdventureGuys

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