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Publish Date: 8/31/2005

Hiker lost in Mummy Range


ESTES PARK — Rangers and search agencies in Rocky Mountain National Park are again looking for a missing hiker in the Mummy Range, a month after a park ranger died while hiking in the same area.

This time they are looking for Hillel Ben-Avi, a 45-year-old from Austin, Texas.

Ben-Avi went missing Sunday afternoon while hiking to the top of 13,502-foot Fairchild Mountain.

He was last seen by his brother at about 1:30 p.m at the peak after the two had separated while hiking, park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

She said the brother saw Ben-Avi from below, but by the time he reached the summit, Ben-Avi was gone.

He was wearing a blue jacket with orange sleeves, gray pants and a green and gray ball cap and was carrying a blue-green Jansport daypack.

Patterson said Ben-Avi is a strong hiker and had several layers of clothing, but he was not prepared to spend several nights in 30-degree weather.

Rangers do have some leads.

“This is a situation where we heard from Hillel on Sunday,” Patterson said. “We knew his general whereabouts and that he was fine at that time.”

Before the brother reported a missing hiker, Ben-Avi himself contacted the park’s dispatch office by cell phone at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, saying he was lost.

Ben-Avi said he had hiked by three lakes, and an official told him to go to one of the lakes and stay there, Patterson said.

Ben-Avi called again 30 minutes later, then the signal was lost.

Patterson said searchers thought he might have been referring to Fay Lakes, but a search in that area was fruitless.

A cell tower picked up a signal from his phone at 10:20 p.m. Sunday, but a connection was not made, she said.

He hasn’t been heard from since.

Park officials contacted Verizon Wireless and Cingular cell phone companies to see if they could trace the phone’s signal, Patterson said.

“There has to be a lot of things in alignment for that to be a possibility,” Patterson said.

The companies did document when the phone was used, but they couldn’t locate Ben-Avi.

Patterson said Ben-Avi had mentioned that the battery was nearly drained.

The search for Ben-Avi began late Sunday afternoon and continued through Monday.

On Tuesday, 70 searchers, two dog teams and two helicopters, including one with thermal imaging capabilities, set out to look for Ben-Avi. Some teams planned to spend the night in the woods.

Larimer County Search and Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and Alpine Rescue are assisting the national park.

Ben-Avi and his brother set out Sunday at the Lawn Lake Trailhead.

They hiked 6.2 miles to Lawn Lake, then rock scrambled to the top of Fairchild Mountain.

The trail to the summit is typical for the Mummy Range — rocky and rough and not well-marked, Patterson said.

It’s also near where, on July 29, park ranger Jeff Christensen was believed to have climbed Ypsilon Mountain, just about a mile as the crow flies from the top of Fairchild.

Searchers found Christensen eight days later in the rocks of Donner Ridge on the south side of Ypsilon. Officials believe he died from a fall.

“This is not the same area as Jeff was,” Patterson said of the search for Ben-Avi.

“But it is the same mountain range.”

She said it’s one of the most rugged and remote areas of the park.

Park officials are asking visitors who hiked in the Mummy Range area Sunday or Monday to contact the park at 970-586-1204.

Douglas Crowl can be reached at 303-684-5253, or by e-mail at dcrowl@times-call.com.

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