The well-known hiker whose body was found on Mount Rainier over the weekend died of hypothermia, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday.
Karen Sykes, 70, of Seattle, had been reported missing late Wednesday when she failed to meet up with her boyfriend as planned during a day hike in the Owyhigh Lakes area near Mount Rainier.
Mount Rainier National Park officials suspended a three-day search for her on Saturday when they discovered the body of a woman in their search area near the eastern branch of Boundary Creek in rough, steep terrain.
Could think of worse ways to meet my fate, but will wager she believed she had many more hikes ahead of her.
Carry extra clothing and use it before you get cold, eat before you get hungry, drink even if you're not thirsty, recognize when it's time to turn around.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
Karen did have the extra clothing, and all the other 15 "Ten" Essentials with her. Her hiking partner (who stopped at the snowline and reported her missing when she didn't return) confirmed this. As a longtime Mountaineers member, trip leader and instructor, as well as author, Karen would never, never have gone without them.
Very few of the media yesterday--I think only the Seattle Times--picked up on the fact that the coroner cited heart disease as a contributing factor. It looks as though you missed that, Rick--maybe the update was added after you linked to the article. Seattle Times article: (emphasis mine)
UPDATE, 4:52 p.m. | Karen Sykes died of hypothermia with the secondary cause of heart disease, the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office said this afternoon. Her death was determined to be an accident.
The Washington State hiking community is devasted. I knew Karen only from her articles (back in the 1980s) in the now-defunct Signpost Magazine and her many posts on the nwhikers.net hiking forum. She was an outstanding advocate of hiking, the Pacific Northwest and of hiking trails. Please, please don't let this wonderful woman be remembered for a "mistake" she did not commit!
You and I infer different takes on what occurred. Mine is that hypothermic stress triggered a cardiac event, not vice versa (hence, "secondary"). We may never know.
My reminder to all who hike in conditions that can lead to core temperature loss is that you may not recognize it occurring and not take needed steps to first halt then reverse it. In other words, a pack with all the necessary remedies and a lifetime of experience can still let you down. I'd guess Lori and other S&R folks could offer relevant examples of just this occurring. The runner who recently survived two nights in the American River canyon, clad in just shorts and a windbreaker, is a contra example.
I'm comfortable suggesting that as an esteemed outdoor advocate and educator, Ms. Sykes would want us to learn from her tragic fate.
Like most backcountry travelers and distance cyclists, I've experienced at least the early stage of hypothermia. I've also hiked with friends who progressed past the initial stage and required intervention (which, ironically, they sometimes resist). It's sneaky and not necessarily recognized, especially by the one affected; in short, you're no longer yourself.
A CPR card is only valid for a year because people forget what they don't actively do. I think at least some aspects of standard backcountry health and safety skill and knowledge can be similarly transitory. Reading this sad tale has me revisiting some long-ignored resources.
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
From this lovely article, it appears that the heart disease factor was "arteriosclerotic vascular disease, a type of hardening of the arteries," which would result in impaired circulation (which would make the onset of hypothermia much faster) and very possibly in weakness or dizziness which would have prevented her from getting clothing out of her pack. Not a cardiac event, but a chronic condition. Assuming, of course, that the article is accurately reporting the autopsy report….
i wonder if she even knew she had this problem? So much heart disease among active, slender women is never diagnosed until the autopsy! It's fat ladies like me who get all the doctors' attention!
Edited by OregonMouse (06/27/1404:57 PM)
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey
Sad! Sounds like she was really experienced with the area, too. But, boy is Rainier a big risk for hypothermia, especially if you spend the night out there on a day-hike. Yikes you can get wet and cold!