Search Under Way For Missing Hiker In Katmai National Park and Preserve

A backpacker in Katmai National Park disappeared in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes when he tried to recover his boots from the Lethe River, pictured here as it bumps into the Buttress Range. NPS photo by Peter Hamel.

A search continued Monday in Katmai National Park and Preserve for a German hiker who vanished from his party in the backcountry.

National Park Service officials said the 48-year-old man disappeared Saturday when he tried to recover his boots, which had fallen into the Lethe River that drains out of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The group was roughly 9 miles into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes from the trailhead, according to a Park Service release.

The man's four companions spent several hours looking for their friend, an experienced hiker, before hiking out to the trailhead and calling in the incident, the release said. The five Germans had planned to spend the last night of their 4-day trip at Six-mile Camp (about six miles from the trailhead) before heading out to be picked up by a
concessioner’s tour bus on August 1.

A hasty search by two Park Service ground crews and the park airplane was initiated Saturday evening, but poor visibility and the onset of darkness ended the search with no signs of the missing hiker. The search resumed on Sunday morning with three ground crews and two fixed-winged aircraft and one helicopter. Air support was being provided by Katmai National Park, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska State Troopers.

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a large, ash-filled area resulting from the 1912 eruption of Novarupta Volcano. The river has frequently swift water, limited numbers of fords for hikers, and many areas with steep banks cut through the ash layers, according to the Park Service.

The trailhead to the area is reached by a 23-mile road from Brooks Camp, the park’s main developed area. Katmai is a 4-million-acre park and preserve located about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Comments

The area described is extremely hazardous, particularly when the Lethe is high. The trail crosses the river well up the valley on a fairly flat stretch of ash. However, it rushes down into a nearby canyon and literally boils over numerous falls and rapids. The sides of the canyon are vertical rising directly out of the river. Anyone swept into the canyon has virtually no chance of survival, and there is a very good chance a body will never be found. It is not possible to float the river or travel on foot along its sides. Hopefully, the missing hiker will be found safe.