Without a Trace

The mountain gods swallow another life

    Photo: Keith Carter

ON JULY 8, 1999, Bronx-born journalist Joe Wood hiked up to Mount Rainier National Park's Mildred Point Trail. A 34-year-old African-American editor for a New York book publisher, Wood was in Seattle for a minority journalists' conference when he decided to spend a day bird-watching. He was not a novice in the outdoors—he'd been an Eagle Scout—but he may not have been prepared for conditions in the park. Rainier had received the fifth-heaviest snowfall in its history, and the six-mile hike was lined with tree wells and treacherous snow bridges.

On the trail, Wood encountered Bruce Gaumond, a retired Boeing employee who came forward after he heard that Wood was missing. Gaumond told the National Park Service that the two had chatted briefly about birds, the length of the trail, and a dicey creek crossing ahead. Wood was never seen again. Did he fall into the creek or stumble off a snowy cliff? The Park Service thinks so, but Wood's mother, Elizabeth, is not so sure. She remains haunted by the possibility that some kind of foul play may have occurred. Searchers scoured the area for five days, but a warm spell had melted the snow, obscuring Wood's tracks. When a final search in September 1999 turned up nothing, Joe Wood was listed as the 65th person to disappear on Rainier.

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