VERLOT — A year ago, Seattle hiker Samantha Sayers went missing on Vesper Peak.
Quietly, her boyfriend, Kevin Dares, has continued to scour the mountain for any clue of what happened to her Aug. 1, 2018.
Sayers’ disappearance sparked a major, exhaustive search on the 6,200-foot peak off the Mountain Loop Highway, as well as a frenzy on social media.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office led the official effort to find her, with the help of many volunteers. Combined, they spent 8,000-plus hours combing the slopes and surrounding wilderness with helicopters, tracking dogs and skilled alpinists. The official search was suspended after three weeks.
Unless new leads come to light, authorities have no plans for a renewed search, sheriff’s spokeswoman Courtney O’Keefe said.
Sayers’ boyfriend, Dares, a Seattle real estate broker, had remained on the mountain with a small group of family and volunteers, until alpine winter pounded the mountain with feet of snow. This year he’s gone searching for about 10 days, including a three-day stint on the mountain’s south face last week, he said.
Sayers had been sighted descending that side of the mountain, then never again, leaving many mystified.
“Visually, it’s so open,” Dares said Saturday, after a reporter reached out to him. “For her to wander down a side is one thing, but to continue going makes just no sense, whatsoever, to me. At the end of the day I keep going because I have nothing else to go on.”
Many hikers recalled seeing Sayers — bald from alopecia, with stars tattooed on her head — going up.
More than one person told sheriff’s deputies they saw Sayers at the summit. One hiker reported he saw her going down the opposite side of the peak, in the direction of the Sultan River basin.
No one recalled seeing her hiking back toward the trailhead. The peak has an almost infinite number of places to slip, get hurt and die. Dares focused last week on places under tree cover, where drones can’t see.
More than 30,000 people kept tabs on the case through Facebook. Many social media conversations turned toxic and bizarre. Dares stopped making public posts about his efforts. He ceased calls for volunteers. But he was back at Vesper to get drone footage in May.
“I don’t think it ever quits being a part of you,” he said. “How do you move on, you know?”
In a Facebook video posted last month, the missing hiker’s mother, Lisa Sayers, said her family has no public plans for the anniversary of the day her daughter vanished. She said she’d been contacted by reporters as the one-year mark neared.
Until her daughter or her remains are found, she hasn’t given up hope of finding her alive, she said.
“So please,” the mother said, “don’t ask me again if we’re having a memorial or a service. Our daughter is missing, so why would we do that? When you truly, truly love someone, time does not determine — a calendar does not determine — when you do that. Just because a year has gone by does not determine that you go: ‘OK, we’re going to have a service or memorial for her, and just move on with our lives, like she never existed.’”
She expressed vague suspicions about how and why her daughter disappeared.
“Just because we don’t share what’s going on doesn’t mean that we’re not continuing to look for her,” she said on the video. “Private investigators are called private investigators for a reason.”
Vesper Peak is a beautiful but treacherous hike. It’s not for beginners. After about two miles of plodding through forest, up switchbacks and over boulders, the trail threads a pass to reveal a daunting route to the summit. The trail fades. Hikers scramble a wall of rock and snow on the east face of the mountain.
At the time she went missing, Sayers was 27. She hiked solo that day. She had some experience in the Cascades, but she only brought food and supplies for a day trip. Her Ford Fiesta still sat at the trailhead when Dares went looking for her. It wasn’t like her to be late to check in, and 6 p.m. passed with no text or phone call, according to the boyfriend’s account. Dares recounted climbing about halfway up the trail alone in the dark. He broke a flashlight and retreated to the ranger station in Verlot, where he called 911.
Much of the official search was carried out by Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue, a group that runs on donations. Mountaineers from around the region offered time and expertise, too.
No one found a trace of Sayers or her gear.
An inventory was posted on social media — a violet Local Lion backpack; blue La Sportiva boots; a gray beanie — on one of many internet groups.
Social media noise has simmered down since last August. Online groups closed or petered out.
In the Cascades, it has been a low year for snowpack. Many hikes melted out early, including Vesper. Last year, pilots checked and rechecked fields of snow and ice, in case they revealed a clue as the snow receded.
Tips can be directed to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office at 425-388-3845.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; email@example.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.