The Mysterious Disappearance of Cody Dial
Roman Dial is an adventure icon and Alaskan legend who raised his son, Cody, in the outdoors. Now Cody is missing in a Costa Rican jungle and Roman is leading the search.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
On July 10, Cody Dial, the son of legendary Alaskan adventurer Roman Dial, embarked on what was supposed to be a five-day trekking trip in Costa Rica. Thirty-one days later, nobody has heard from him.
The 27-year-old Cody Roman Dial— “R2” to friends and family—was traveling through Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica’s largest and most ecologically diverse landscape, when he went missing. Tourists have been required to hike with a guide since February, but Cody was alone and told his parents that he intended to trek illegally off the permitted trails.
Details about Cody’s disappearance remain contradictory, but several facts are accepted: Officials have no record of his entrance into the park, he was reported missing by his parents on July 22, the search mission began on July 24, and this was Cody’s second time visiting Corcovado. He’d accompanied his father to the park as a teenager.
That’s about all we know. The Tico Times, a Costa Rican English-language paper, reports Cody was last seen entering the southeast portion of the park on July 22. But later reporting casts doubts on the sighting. Authorities were also told that Cody was spotted outside the park, but none of the tips have been substantiated. In one case, a local man claimed that Cody hired him as a guide and paid him with cash withdrawn from an ATM.
Cody grew up exploring the Alaskan wilderness, and, like his father, is a backcountry expert.
His parents, Roman and Peggy, did say that claim can’t be true. They were able to obtain withdrawal records from Cody’s bank in Alaska, and found that no such transfers were made from Cody’s account.
“He’s very cautious, extremely well-educated, and he knows the dangers,” Peggy said. “I'm confident.”
The Corcovado National Park is an eco-tourism and research hot-spot (Roman has led teaching and research trips there to study the ecology of the jungle canopy). It sits on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, just north of the Panamanian border, and is partially isolated from mainland development on the Osa Peninsula. It’s 160-square miles of mountains, beaches, and rain forests are biologically diverse. But the park can be a dangerous place, even for experienced travelers. Canyons and rivers, hidden by thick foliage, can trap hikers, and the terrain makes even simple navigation dangerous. There are also the venomous snakes and roughly 400 illegal gold mines.
Complicating matters further, officials have been unable to distinguish between illegal miners’ campsites and any traces Cody may have left. In late July, rescuers began patrolling the sites with the help of miners, but have not turned up any sign of the American.
Last week, the Red Cross and Costa Rican government suspended their search operations. After several weeks of delays, Roman received permission to search for his son on his own, Peggy said. He is focusing his efforts on remote waterfalls and canyons. Cody may have been trying to follow a river out of the wilderness—a sound strategy in less densely vegetated Alaska—and inadvertently become stuck in a deep canyon.
Both Cody’s family and friends in Alaska believe a happy outcome to the search is still possible. Cody grew up exploring the Alaskan wilderness, and, like his father, is a backcountry expert. He was studying for a Masters in Environmental Science at Alaska Pacific University, but put the program on hold in January to spend the winter and spring trekking through every major national park in Central America.
Roman has been an Alaskan legend since arriving in the state in the late 1970s. A National Geographic Explorer, he pioneered the use of packrafts—inflatable kayak-style boats made of industrial-grade fabric. The boats revolutionized backcountry travel in Alaska and launched modern adventure racing, a sport in which Roman was a dominant figure for two decades.
He’s also a four-time winner of the grueling Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, first in 1982 and most recently in 2002. The race predates, and many Alaskans claim was the inspiration for, the later crop of more famous and more commercial adventure races such as the Raid Gauloises and Eco-Challenge. The Classic has no checkpoints, no prize money, and no race officials. Cody became the youngest person ever to finish the race when he completed the Eureka Summit to Talkeetna course in 2004* at age 17. Just last weekend at the 2014 event, 10-year veteran of the race Rob Kehrer died while attempting to raft the Tana River.
“He’s very competent and strong and smart and that’s probably why there’s hope in this situation,” said Paul Twardock, who, like Roman, is both a long-time professor at APU in Anchorage and an accomplished backcountry guide and outdoorsman.
The Dials are asking that checks be sent to Margaret Dial at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, PO Box 196613, Anchorage, AK, 99519. All checks should say “Cody Roman Dial Donation Account” on the memo line. All donations will go toward defraying costs associated with the Dials' search.
Matt White (@PJMatt) was a Pararescueman in the U.S. Air Force and Alaska Air National Guard. He has written about Alaska for Outside, SBNation Longform, Los Angeles Magazine, and other outlets.
*An earlier version of this story stated that Cody completed the course in 2014. We regret the error.