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Search for missing hiker in Boulder County ends after rescue volunteer finds remains

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Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 03, 2021

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. -- For nearly five months, multiple search-and-rescue teams tried to find missing hiker Josh Hall.

"Over 700 volunteer hours spent by professional rescuers on the search itself, and that doesn't even include the amount of overhead, logistics, planning [and] organization that occurred," Rocky Mountain Rescue Group (RMRG) public information officer Drew Hildner said Saturday.

Hall and his dog Happy disappeared Feb. 3 after starting a hike at the Hessie Trailhead in Boulder County. They were headed toward Devil's Thumb Lake when a snowstorm rolled in. No one saw them again.

"Field teams searching the day of and the day after were reporting gusts up to 50 miles an hour. We had several feet of snow over those first several days," Hildner said.

Video shared by RMRG of the second day of the search for Hall showed the dangerous conditions crews faced.

"It certainly hampered our search both the day of, the several days after and even a month after," Hildner said.

But eight days after the hike, someone found Happy alive on a highway several miles northeast of the trailhead. A miracle, some would say, but by then, rescuers weren't too hopeful Hall had also survived.

"Especially in those weather conditions, we didn't have very high expectations that ... he had much chance of survival beyond a few days," Hildner said.

On Thursday, July 1, several searches and months later, a volunteer with Front Range Rescue Dogs (FRRD) made a discovery, a day before a larger search for Hall had been scheduled.

"They just got an early start and followed up on some of the indications that other dogs had had and made the find," FRRD canine handler Jenny Paddock said.

The volunteer and their canine found Hall's remains about four miles west of the Hessie Trailhead. The Boulder County Coroner's Office positively identified the remains as Hall's on Saturday, but the cause of his death is still under investigation.

"We wish the outcome were different, but being able to help with that closure is huge for us. It's very important for us," Paddock said.

She and her fellow volunteer canine handlers train for searches like these, and she thanks the recent snowmelt for helping her colleague make the discovery possible.

"It was just a matter of we had to wait for the conditions to be right, to go up and go to work," Paddock said. "We don't want to leave anybody out there. We want to be able to go out there and help resolve this."

Josh Hall's family sent Denver7 the following statement Saturday:

"While we are devastated and forever heartbroken, we are grateful and relieved that Josh has been found.

We want to express our deepest appreciation to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, the numerous search and rescue teams, and the angel hikers that never stopped looking for our son. These men and women spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours searching for our son and never once gave up. There was never a point in this search when we felt that Josh was forgotten. We would also like to thank the Boulder, Nederland and surrounding communities for their prayers, love and support through this very difficult time.

In our darkest hour we have been reminded that there is so much light in this world. The efforts, determination and sacrifices made by so many in our community (most of whom had never even met Josh) to find our son and bring us peace have made a lasting impression and will forever change the way we see humanity.

Josh lived life to the fullest, always striving to learn, making others laugh and taking in the beauty of his surroundings. His adventurous spirit inspired all of us to try new things, meet new people, and explore new trails. While we grieve the loss of our son, we will strive to find comfort in the fact Josh died doing what he loved, and that he is and will always be part of Indian Peaks Wilderness."

In addition to RMRG, FRRD and the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, the following groups, according to volunteers, were also involved in the search for Hall: Flight for Life, Colorado Search and Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, Boulder Emergency Squad, Grand County SAR, Larimer County SAR, Douglas County SAR, Park County SAR, El Paso County SAR, Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado, Arapahoe Rescue Patrol, Boulder County Fire, Boulder County Parks & Open Space, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Fire Prevention and Control, Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol, Nederland Fire Protection District, Boulder Valley School District and Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.