Many Pacific Crest Trail hikers who met Kris Fowler felt a sense of kinship inspired by his love and appreciation for nature.
Nearly three years after he disappeared without a trace close to White Pass, Fowler is still bringing people together. This weekend, volunteers will join his stepmother from Ohio, Sally Guyton Fowler, to look for signs of Fowler near Chinook Pass in a search coordinated by Cathy Tarr.
“Kris was by himself and I know what it’s like to be out in the middle of nowhere by yourself and not really knowing which way to go,” Tarr said. “When they first started looking, or I first started seeing it on Facebook back in October (2016), I’d been following it, hoping I would find him.”
She spends much of her time trying to help families find missing hikers, including another PCT hiker from Ireland who disappeared in 2017. Tarr aims to pick up where search and rescue workers have left off, filling gaps in information to ensure searches continue effectively.
The Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and travels through California, Oregon and Washington.
Yakima County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Randy Briscoe communicates daily with Guyton Fowler and others, something Tarr said is rare in her experience. Officials won’t be involved this weekend, but Briscoe said they’ve completed several searches of their own over the last three years.
The efforts by volunteers and Briscoe’s team have helped Tarr compile a detailed map of areas covered in the search. This weekend’s effort will encompass about 7 miles of the PCT south of Chinook Pass where he might be found, according to some evidence, including an item discovered by search and rescue that could belong to Fowler.
A more experienced group of eight avid hikers will be searching around the trail from Thursday through Sunday. Other volunteers are asked to sign in at Chinook Pass on Saturday morning before departing in groups of no more than five people for an all-day search.
“At this point we’re about 50 to 100 feet off of each trail,” Tarr said. “We have one side trail that we’ll be searching.”
Fowler and a friend traveling with her from Ohio plan to meet with volunteers before joining Tarr for a helicopter search focused primarily on Laughingwater Creek Trail, a side trail off the PCT nearly 12 trail miles south of Chinook Pass. Darrington-based pilot Tarek Husevold said the group plans to fly for about two hours with a GoPro set up to get footage from the area.
Hours spent studying the region should give Husevold a good understanding of where to fly a rented Hi Line helicopter during an excursion he said will cost about $5,000. Guyton Fowler said she’ll use the remaining money from a GoFundMe that raised nearly $22,000 and plans to pay for the rest out of her own pocket.
It’s her first trip back to Washington since making the difficult decision to leave the initial search after 10 days in November 2016. She’s looking forward to meeting many of the volunteers, including Tarr, for the first time after years of constant communication.
“It’ll be emotional,” Tarr said. “There’s so many people that have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours on this.”
They won’t stop if this weekend doesn’t bring closure. Husevold said learning whether he can land in certain parts of the wilderness could be beneficial for future searches. More than 7,400 people are part of the “Bring Kris Fowler/Sherpa Home” Facebook” group. A day rarely goes by without a post of encouragement or a new idea of how to find the thru-hiker nicknamed “Sherpa.”