Outdoor enthusiasts asked to keep eyes open for missing Chicago man

SPECIAL TO THE DAILY SENTINEL

Hunters and hikers planning to hike in and around the Holy Cross Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest are asked to watch for signs of a Chicago man who has been missing since last fall.

According to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, 31-year-old James Nelson was dropped off Oct. 3, 2010, at the Fall Creek trail head at the start of a 25-mile hike into some of Colorado’s most challenging terrain.

Plans called for him to meet his fiancée at the trail head the next Friday, but he failed to appear.

No trace of Nelson was ever located, despite an intense four-day search with helicopters, search and rescue crews and trained dogs.

With the first of Colorado’s big-game rifle seasons set to begin Oct. 15, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Vail Mountain Rescue Group are asking hunters who head into the area, also known as game management unit 45, to be alert for discarded hiking equipment, an abandoned tent or possible human remains.

“Hunters head into off-trail areas that most hikers avoid,” Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will said. “We’re asking that they keep an eye peeled for evidence that could help bring closure to Mr. Nelson’s family.”

Dan Smith, of the Vail Mountain Rescue Group, said trained search and rescue dogs appeared to pick up Nelson’s scent off a trail near Lake Constantine on Nelson’s planned route.

A pair of hikers reported they had seen a man matching Nelson’s description on Oct. 3.

Then he vanished.

“Even after the massive search, we did not find any of his hiking equipment, backpack, tent or his body,” Smith said.

It won’t be a great surprise should a hunter find a break in this case because hunters in recent years have helped solve several high-profile cases.

In 2007, a Colorado hunter found the body of an Alzheimer’s patient missing for a month, even after hundreds of people had searched for him.

The hunter found the remains seven miles from the missing man’s home in Cotopaxi.

Last year in Maine, a deer hunter discovered a missing two-year old girl who had been kidnapped and taken to a remote area by the suspect, her father.

After recognizing the girl from television reports, the hunter rescued the little girl and convinced her father to turn himself in to authorities.

Although the search for Nelson is suspended, the Vail Mountain Rescue group and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office are prepared to follow up immediately on any new information they receive.

If hunters find abandoned clothing, backpacking equipment, camp gear or what appears to be human remains, Smith said they should avoid touching or moving it.

He recommends they photograph it, mark the exact location — using GPS if available — and let the local sheriff’s office know as soon as possible by calling 911.

Nelson was the president of a Chicago-area hiking club and was known as an experienced hiker.

His friends and family report that before he left on his trip, he was prepared and followed many of the recommended rules of hiking in the back country.

He packed the necessary supplies and he was careful to let several people know where he was planning to hike by mapping his route, which would take him over several of the areas tallest peaks including one of Colorado’s most well known “fourteeners”, the rugged Mount of the Holy Cross.

Nelson, who went by the nickname “JB”, wore a mustache and a goatee.

He was last seen wearing an orange long-sleeved shirt, khaki slacks and brown hiking boots.

He may have also been wearing wire-rimmed glasses or sunglasses, possibly a black or green jacket and rust-colored, knit stocking cap.

His equipment included a red backpack, Diamond Back hiking poles, Asolo boots, Delorme NP-40 GPS unit and a gray and yellow single-person tent.

“He knew what he was doing, and we can only imagine that he had an accident of some kind,” said his father, Jim Nelson. “We just ask people that if they see anything while hunting, or remember anything from last year, to please let us know.”

To learn more about backcountry safety and “The Art of Survival,” visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/PlanYourHunt/ResourcesTips/Pages/Survival.aspx


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