Hiker died of hypothermia on Mount Rainier

SEATTLE — A 70-year-old hiker who died of hypothermia in rugged terrain in Mount Rainier National Park over the weekend was experienced, prepared and knew the mountain well after having written dozens of stories about treks through the area.

She did not have other injuries and her death was an accident, the Pierce County medical examiner’s office said Monday. Karen Sykes had heart disease, according to an autopsy, but her daughter and others said she was healthy and fit and often hiked twice a week.

While not certain about the circumstances around her death, those who knew Sykes said earlier that they believed her death was something that could happen to anyone no matter how experienced.

“The mountains are big. There’s a lot going on. She was extremely experienced but experience has nothing to do with any of it,” said Kim Brown, who has hiked with Sykes.

“She was very careful, very cautious,” Brown said of Sykes, who was prominent in the Northwest hiking community for her trail reviews and photographs and her book on hiking western Washington. “It’s just something that happens out in the mountains. Everybody who goes in the mountains knows this can happen. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go out, you need to be aware of it.”

Sykes was reported missing late Wednesday when she failed to meet up with her boyfriend as planned during a day hike on the east side of the mountain.

Park officials suspended three-day search efforts on Saturday when they discovered Sykes.

Kindra Ramos, with the nonprofit Washington Trails Association, said she won’t guess what happened to Sykes but said hiking comes with some inherent risks.

“As they go outdoors, the best thing you could do is to have your 10 essentials, be comfortable with your surroundings, and go as far as you’re comfortable,” Ramos said.

She recommended proper trip planning and preparation, including reading trip reports and knowing weather conditions.

“Karen knew these things and I’m sure did them. She really had her bases covered, and unfortunately accidents happen sometimes,” Ramos said. She added that Sykes would want people to know that there are some risks but “she wouldn’t want to scare people from hiking.”

Mary Kay Nelson, executive director of Visit Rainier, an organization that promotes tourism at the mountain, said Sykes was researching a story that she likely would have submitted to the website.

She said Sykes had written about more than 100 hikes in the Rainier area, and “was always eager to find new places to go, hidden hikes that weren’t well-traveled.”

Nelson said Sykes’ disappearance was particularly shocking because she was so experienced.

“It tells us that no matter how prepared we are, accidents happens and things can happen. We need to take outdoor recreation seriously. There’s a certain amount of risk every day we get up, whatever we do,” she said.

Since 2000, 18 hikers have died in Mount Rainier National Park, including from falls, drowning and heart attacks, according to park statistics.

Annette Shirey, 52, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, said her mother had a personal connection to the mountain and wanted to share that love with others.

“The mountains were always a place that gave her strength and (were) always uplifting for her,” she said. “It helped restore her spirit and her strength.”

More in Local News

A customer walks away after buying a hot dog from a vendor on 33rd St and Smith Street near the Everett Station on Friday. The Everett Station District Alliance pictures the area east of Broadway and south of Hewitt Avenue as a future neighborhood and transit hub that could absorb expected population growth. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
How can Everett Station become a vibrant part of city?

A neighborhood alliance focused on long-term revitalization will update the public Tuesday.

Agency didn’t expect such big demand for needle clean-up kits

The Snohomish Health District ran out of supplies quickly, but more are arriving daily.

EvCC teachers take their contract concerns to the board

Their union says negotiations have been disappointingly slow. The community college isn’t commenting.

Here’s what to do if you want to vote and aren’t registered

Oct. 30 is the deadline for new-voter registration in time for the November election.

Two teens struck by truck in Lynnwood

The teens, between the ages of 14 and 16, were taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Luring attempt reported in Mountlake Terrace

The driver allegedly instructed a boy to get in the truck and help grab a scooter he was giving away.

Injured hiker rescued near Granite Falls

Woman fell and hit her head on a rock Saturday, and her condition worsened overnight.

Council passes six-month moratorium on safe injection sites

Proposal by County Councilman Nate Nehring passed unanimously.

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Most Read