Michelle Vanek Search

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This was yet another difficult search to join. I left on Friday evening with Mitch, and spent the night at the Minturn Middle school. We arrived at midnight and got a few hours of sleep before debrief on Saturday. Vail Mountain Rescue had arranged a fantasic breakfast prepared by the Cowboy Chef from Breckenridge. The food looked awesome, but unfortunately Mitch and I were called to debrief before we got the chance to grab much breakfast. It was a short quick debrief where we were assigned a gid area to search and told to be ready to go in 10 minutes. We were on the trail by 6:45 a.m. but had 5 miles and nearly 5000 vertical feet to go to reach our search area. When we reached our search area, we saw the difficult task we had left ahead of us. We had been given approximately 40 acres of a boulderfield above 13,000 feet. Some of the boulders in this area were the size of cars. We searched what seemed like an endless supply of cracks, crevaces, overhangs, and hidden chambers amoung the boulders. After 5 hours with a team of 7 we finished sweeping our area and began the long hike back out which involved re-ascending halfmoon pass. A 1,000 foot gain after a very long day. We finally returned to the trailhead at 9:30 p.m.

Included below are two articles from the Vail Daily newspaper describing the search on Saturday, and the resulting decisions. The photos are mine.

Team 14 and Team 15 on halfmoon pass checking out the trail ahead.

Largest-ever search begins Saturday

Massive rescue effort assembled to look for Michelle Vanek, now missing for a week
J.K. Perry
September 30, 2005

EDWARDS — More than 200 rescuers from across the state are descending upon the valley for the largest search-and-rescue mission in Colorado history. They’ll be looking for Michelle Vanek, a 35-year-old mother of four from Lakewood, whose has been missing in the Holy Cross Wilderness for seven days that have seen rain- and snowfall in the High Country. So far, Vanek, who disappeared during a hike with a friend up the 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross, has failed to respond to rescuers’ whistles and calls, or the sound of patrolling helicopters. “I would think at this point, Michelle is not mobile or responsive,” said Tim Cochrane of Vail Mouton Rescue. “Over this many days it’s going to be hard to get out into the open.” Officials confirmed today that Vanek had a small supply of Powerbars and energy “goo.” Rescuers again failed to find any signs of Vanek on Friday, but officials were preparing for the onslaught of people expected to join the search this weekend. Most of the rescuers are staying in Minturn Middle School or sleeping outside. Some groups of volunteers planned to hike out of Minturn at 4 a.m., Saturday. Pastor Ethan Moore of Trinity Church in Edwards is organizing an effort to prepare 750 bag lunches for the rescuers. “The reason we’re doing this is because we’re here to help the community,” Moore said. Other groups and individuals have arranged housing for some of the rescuers. Rescuers finished a search of Tuhare Lake and Seven Sisters Lake while outlying routes where Vanek could have attempted to leave the wilderness were also explored. “The plan is proceeding right on schedule,” Cochrane said. “We continue to look for any clues that would lead us to where Michelle might have gone, but we still don’t have any clues.” Of the 200 rescuers planning to comb the Holy Cross Wilderness, 50 will search the Bowl of Tears, the boulder field below the summit where Vanek was last seen. “The idea is to totally saturate the boulder field through Sunday,” Cochrane said. Officials are moving their rescue headquarters from Edwards to Minturn. A base camp will be set up at Reads Meadow from Saturday into Sunday night for 100 rescuers and supplies. The camp will allow personnel to begin searching earlier in the day. Thirty to 35 rescuers from the Front Range will search the main trail leading to the Bowl of Tears where Vanek was last seen. Another 30 have orders to search areas not already covered. “There is a lot of concern how to get the right number and right people in without getting somebody else lost,” said Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Bill Kaufman. “The sheriff’s office has received multiple calls from people offering assistance. The office is no longer seeking volunteers. If Vanek is not found by Sunday night, officials plan to reevaluate their plans for Monday.

Mount of the Holy Cross

Part of the boulder field we were searching. For an idea of what you are looking at, the boulders in the foreground were larger than a full sized refridgerator.

Andy (a guy I met on this search who recieved the nickname Real American Hero due to his attire) and I taking a rest after the search.

This is Mitch, we kept each other sane on this search. He's a great guy to have with you when on a search.

Search for missing hiker ends

Matt Zalaznick
October 1, 2005

MINTURN — Not a trace of Michelle Vanek was found in more than seven days of searching the High Country. The rescue effort was called off Saturday night after a day in which more than 320 people scoured Mount of the Holy Cross for signs of the 35-year-old mother of four who has been missing for more than a week. “Typically by now we have some sort of clue or evidence indicating some direction of travel or where she may have sheltered,” said Tim Cochrane, the Vail Mountain Rescue search commander. “In these cases you find a candy wrapper, a dropped glove — this girl had ski poles, where is that stuff?” Capt. Bill Kaufman, a spokesman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, said the search was halted because, “any further mission would not lead to the possibility of finding Ms. Vanek.” Childhood friends of Michelle Vanek, valley residents, professional rescue crews and other volunteers — some of whom started hiking before dawn Saturday — had joined in one last, massive attempt to find the woman who disappeared while hiking the 14,005-foot mountain with a friend Sept. 24. “It’s hard to figure she’s out there,” said Janice Hagestad, a friend of Vanek’s from the Lakewood area who made sandwiches for searchers Saturday. “(Saturday) morning, it was pitch dark and cold, and to think someone spent the last several nights out there. I can’t even imagine. It’s scary.” Barbara Hogoboom of Eagle was among the vanloads of exhausted searchers who returned to the search headquarters at Minturn Middle School as the sun set Saturday night. Hogoboom said she started the day optimistic, but left the mountain discouraged. “I really felt like this was in my backyard and I needed to do what I could,” Hogoboom said. “I really felt like with this many people, if she was anywhere within reach, we could’ve found her.”

These were some of the last searchers leaving the boulderfield as the sun was setting.