A comprehensive search that since Sunday has involved people hiking dozens of miles, and a pair of helicopters flying for more than 10 hours, hasn’t turned up a single sign of a Haines man who failed to return from a planned one-day deer-hunting trip in the Wallowa Mountains.
“We’re all kind of stumped right now,” Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash said Thursday morning.
Ash said Andy Dennis told his wife, Patty, that he planned to return home on Saturday. Dennis also left a map showing the areas he planned to hunt, the sheriff said.
Searchers have focused on that area, which includes Crater Lake, reached by a steep 6-mile trail from East Eagle Creek Road, and the Kettle Creek and Little Kettle Creek drainages, Ash said.
The search perimeter is larger than that, however.
Searchers riding ATVs have covered roads along Sullivan Creek, a tributary to East Eagle Creek that would be a possible route for someone coming downhill from the Crater Lake area, and around the Amalgamated Mine about 4 miles south of where Dennis’ vehicle was parked.
Ash said there are several hunters’ camps in the area, and all have been notified that Dennis was missing.
None of the hunters reported seeing him, or any evidence of where he might have gone, the sheriff said.
There have been no reports, either by searchers or hunters in the area, of the Jack Russell terrier that accompanied Dennis.
Before the search and rescue team was summoned Sunday afternoon someone found a glove in the area, but it’s not clear whether it belonged to Dennis, Ash said.
The sheriff said he talked with another hunter who was camped in the area over the weekend and said the storm that brought heavy snow to the Wallowas hit around 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The snow, which was about 8 inches deep earlier this week in the Crater Lake area, which is at about 7,600 feet elevation, has made for extremely arduous hiking conditions for ground searchers, Ash said.
The terrain is rugged, with many sheer or nearly sheer cliffs, and the wet, heavy snow falling on shrubs still bearing leaves caused the shrubs to slump to the ground, creating mats of slippery vegetation that are all but inaccessible, he said.
The snow-bent shrubs also block views of the ground.
“If you haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to imagine,” Ash said. “It’s really treacherous.”
On Monday one team covered the trail to Crater Lake, while a second hiked south from the lake to the Summit Point area, he said.
The sheriff said two helicopters, one from Baker Aircraft and a Chinook from the National Guard, have combined to fly for more than 10 hours.
Ash said conditions generally have been conducive to air searches, and visibility was good enough at times that he was able to see individual grouse flying when the passing chopper frightened them.
But the aerial searches have so far been as fruitless as the ground effort.
Dennis’ niece, Candy Sturm, said her uncle has often hunted in the East Eagle area and also led guided tours in the mountains.
“He knows that area like the back of his hand,” Sturm said.
Sturm said a group of friends and relatives has been searching for Dennis since Sunday, but they have had no better luck than the search and rescue crews from the Sheriff’s Office.
Ash said Patty Dennis was expecting her husband to return Saturday.
When he had failed to do so early Sunday, friends and relatives started a search effort. The call to the Sheriff’s Office came in around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Ash said searchers from the Sheriff’s Office made it about 4 miles up the trail to Crater Lake Sunday before turning back due to darkness and snow.
Ash said searchers planned to focus today on the Little Kettle Creek drainage.
Ash said he has been in touch with Dennis’ family during the search.
Ash said Dennis was not carrying a cellphone while hunting.
Dennis is a white male, 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, with light brown hair, blue eyes, and a beard and mustache. He was known to be wearing a camouflage baseball cap and possibly a tan coat.
Anyone with information about Dennis’ location should call the Sheriff’s Office at 541-523-6415.