CHINOOK PASS — Sally Guyton Fowler had not been back to Washington since November 2016, after several grueling days of searching for her missing stepson, Kris Fowler. Leaving without answers was so hard, and she knew returning for a long weekend of searches would be emotional.
At the same time, though, Fowler was cheered by the earnest response by numerous volunteers who spent hours and days in the most recent large-scale efforts to find Kris — an experienced hiker known to many as Sherpa — who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail when last seen Oct. 12, 2016, near White Pass. And she feels good about all the ground that volunteers covered this weekend.
“The day search we planned all along was Saturday. It was pretty amazing,” Fowler said of that and other efforts to look for signs of Kris near Chinook Pass in a search coordinated by Cathy Tarr. “The people who showed up to search came from Wyoming, Denver, California, Florida and of course all over Washington. Some people drove six hours to come that day.”
Some were out a few hours on Saturday, some on Sunday, while several experienced hikers headed out Thursday, camped for four days while searching and returned Sunday, Fowler said Monday. She got back home to Ohio late Sunday.
The Pacific Crest Trail spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada and runs through California, Oregon and Washington.
One team of five people went deep into the woods to set up a base camp in the Laughingwater Creek area.
“They did not find anything that we believe belonged to Kris, but they covered an enormous amount of ground very thoroughly. So we feel good about checking off the area they were in,” Fowler said.
“Then we had 20 names on the sign-up sheet at Chinook Pass on Saturday of people who went out in two teams. … They were gone the majority of the day, and they searched quite a bit of area as well,” Fowler added. “They did not find anything that belonged to Kris either, but again we can check off those big areas they were in. We feel good about the ground that got covered.”
A hiker from Alaska found a blue tarp in an area off the trail, brought it back and gave it to a couple of people spending the night at Chinook Pass. Volunteers searched the area and don’t believe it belonged to Kris, his stepmother said. But just the fact that the man brought it back shows heightened awareness, which is important.
“Normally (someone) would have just left it,” Fowler said. “Someday, somebody might find something that was his.”
Along with searchers out on the trail, volunteers handed out flyers to day hikers and others at Chinook Pass, she said. “Many, many people coming in for day hikes were not aware of Sherpa (being) missing,” she said. “Now they know.”
Fowler is still getting information and photos from searchers, and expects that will keep coming in over the next couple of weeks. She stressed her appreciation for all of them, including the “trail angels” who fed searchers and helped out in other ways.
“It was really emotional and enlightening to see the unbelievable amount of people who take time out of their busy lives to go search for someone they’ve never met,” Fowler said. “I just can’t find enough words to express how much that means, how amazing it is. It was just amazing. I could hardly speak without crying. The whole thing was very emotional.”
She reaches out regularly to the more than 7,400 people who are part of the Bring Kris Fowler/Sherpa Home Facebook group. Anyone with any information about Kris should message her there or call the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office at 509-574-2500.
“The last time I left there was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Fowler said, and leaving this time without answers was difficult. But the hurt is also mixed with hope.
“I know there’s so many people looking for him, and someday, some way, he’ll be found and we’ll have some closure,” she said.