Eagle County sheriff, with 'heavy heart,' suspends search for missing Chicago hiker in Holy Cross Wilderness Area

By David O. Williams
Real AspenOctober 12, 2010

The Eagle County Sheriff's Office this afternoon announced that at midnight it is officially suspending the search for missing Chicago hiker James Nelson, who started off on a solo 25-mile circuitous route around and up Mount of the Holy Cross on Oct. 3 but has not been seen or heard from since.

Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy, in conjunction with Vail Mountain Rescue, made the announcement "with heavy hearts." Nelson's fiancé reported him missing Friday and searchers began looking for Nelson, with an assist from military helicopters, on Saturday. He was well equipped but not carrying a cell phone.

There was snow at higher elevations over the weekend, and it rained again heavily in the mountain valleys around the Holy Cross Wilderness overnight Monday into Tuesday morning, with more snow above 10,000 feet.

Led by the sheriff's office, Vail Mountain Rescue, along with five different search and rescue teams, worked more than 1,000 hours over the past four days but were unable to locate Nelson, 31, a church administrator with some backpacking and hiking experience.

The search for missing Chicago hiker James Nelson will be officially suspended at midnight.

“The decision to suspend the search for James was extremely difficult,” Sheriff Hoy said in a release. “Search and rescue teams have scoured all of the terrain that could safely be searched on foot, some of it searched several times, in addition to the extensive aerial search, with no results.

“We are extremely grateful for the assistance provided by Colorado National Guard High Altitude Aviation Training Center (HAATS), TriState CareFlight, Alpine Rescue Team, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Summit County Search and Rescue, Garfield County Search and Rescue, and the Eagle Valley Religious Foundation,” Hoy added.

Nelson was last seen Oct. 3 by two hikers, but no trace of him has been found since then. His proposed route included the summit of 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross, but he did not sign the summit register.

Searchers will continue to look for clues to Nelson's whereabouts when they are called to the Holy Cross Wilderness Area on other missions. Because of his interest in old mining artifacts, searchers had been looking in and around old mines and the ghost town of Holy Cross City.

At an altitude between 9,000 and 14,005 feet, the Holy Cross Wilderness Area is made up of some the most rugged terrain in Colorado. Search and rescue officials are discouraging people from searching on their own.

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