Search suspended for NJ hiker missing for more than a week in snowy mountain
LIVINGSTON — For many college kids their first few weeks at a new school is spent getting settled in, making friends, and getting ready for the adventures ahead. For 20-year-old Zach Krull, his first week was about exploring the wildlife surrounding Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington where he had started his first semester last month.
Krull's love of the outdoors may have brought a tragic end to his young life after he was reported missing a week ago after a hike in the mountains near his new school. It is believed Krull went hiking April 8.
Search efforts were suspended this week after the Pacific Northwest area was inundated by snow and severe winter weather.
Krull's father Stewart said his son moved out west last February and had been attending classes at Southern Oregon University before moving to the Washington college last month. Krull said his son wanted to "learn more about the earth and get a degree that would allow him to become a forest ranger."
"He had a great love of the outdoors and wanted to do everything he could to help educate the world about why we need to take care of the planet," his dad said. On his Instagram page, Krull's bio says: "The Earth doesn't belong to us, we belong to the Earth."
According to the Mason County Sheriff's Office, search efforts to find Krull started on April 11, though his father said they believe he had been missing since that weekend. Sheriff's officers were searching in the area of Lake Cushman inside Olympic National Park near Mount Cruiser and near the Staricase camping grounds.
While a massive search effort was undertaken this weekend, it was hampered by severe weather, which lasted most of the time Krull has been missing.
"The weather was unseasonably tragic up there," his dad said. "There were ice slides, snow slides, and avalanches. It didn't stop snowing from we think the moment Zach went lost sometime Sunday until this past weekend." He added, "I don't think he ever had a chance once the weather decided to do this."
Knowing how much his son loved the outdoors, Krull said he was not surprised that he would hike by himself even when there could have been less than favorable conditions.
"He was always somebody who if you give him an inch he'll take a yard," he said. "It's something I've accepted that he's going to take a certain amount of risk but I always thought he's a very capable person, he's a very smart person, and something like this was never in the realm of possibility as far as my wife and I could imagine."
Krull's parents flew out to Washington to help with the search, which included dozens of volunteers on Saturday and said they appreciated the level of support they received.
"Every official, every person in every capacity did everything they could to help find Zach," he said. "We have never been so grateful to have such capable people on the job because they left no stone un-turned looking for Zach."
A search for Krull was unsuccessful, but searchers did find his tent.
"It was on this beautiful little patch of land right near the lake," he said. "Our theory is that instead of planning the longer hike, which I had found on his GPS app, we think he decided to do a day hike instead. We think he was was so tired he just went to sleep on Saturday and with all the enthusiasm he had in his body he probably burst out of his tent on Sunday morning and decided to do a day hike."
A set of footsteps were found near the area leading into an avalanche zone, which was more than 300 meters wide. Krull said searchers could not see beyond or on the other side of the zone because the weather was too dangerous.
The Krull family has started a Facebook page to help find Zach and share information about his whereabouts. On that page, his dad said he has seen what he knows is special about his son in other people.
"He's a kindred spirit with a lot of other people and the outdoors just calls some people," he said. "For him, being alone out there was just as important as bringing his friends and family out there. It's where he felt at home."
The search for Zach has been suspended as the continued inclement weather has continued to hit the search area, which his dad said his family understands, and his son would have understood.
"The last thing my wife Hallie and I want, and the last thing Zach would ever want is for any dog or any person to get hurt searching for him," he said. "We've made it clear that until it's safe for somebody to go there we want people to wait until until the snow melts."
Until then, he said his family will wait for answers.
"We just want the search to continue, we want to have some kind of closure, and we want to be able to know what happened to Zach," his dad said.
Krull said anyone with information about his son's whereabouts or who can help in any way are encouraged to contact the Mason County Sheriff's Office at 360-426-4441.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com