The Comprehensive Search for Rachel Lakoduk in the North Cascades, Washington State

UPDATE: Rachel Lakoduk’s remains were finally discovered in August of 2021 by searchers, and in the area we showed the year prior to the discovery of her remains. We are not gloating about that. We are simply glad her family received closure. The best theory is that she ran into heavy snow on the way up the trail, then lost the trail, and then attempted to go straight down the mountain through a steep and heavily wooded area. And that during this attempt, she was probably injured, unable to continue, and succumbed to hypothermia.)

Before the Covid-19 crisis, Adventure Books of Seattle occasionally hosted our famous ‘Cooper Campouts,’ where people from Western Washington would gather for a two or three day camping trip to celebrate the D.B. Cooper case. Mostly, we held these in the Olympic Mountains at remote drive-to spots at the end of some Forest Service road, or a spot by a wild river.

When Covid came along we had to say goodbye to all that and there hasn’t been one held since. In the meantime, all the base camp gear we purchased to do these campouts has just been sitting in storage, unused.

[UPDATE: This article has been edited. The teams organized for the September search have moved up the dates of the search to later in the month, so as a result, AB of Seattle staff will NOT be participating in this one. The original plan called for a ten-day (or so) search starting around September 4, but the starting date was recently moved instead to AFTER the Labor Day weekend. We wish them the best of luck. Edited by Robert Blevins, Adventure Books of Seattle.]

Rachel and her husband, Jamie. He searches for his wife nearly every weekend.
Image courtesy of the GoFundMe page for Rachel.

In October of 2019, a young woman named Rachel Lakoduk was on a hike in the North Cascades to a place called Hidden Lake. There is a shelter cabin at the top of a small mountain there, and it is about a seven-mile hike between the parking lot at the trailhead, and the cabin above. The trail switchbacks up the mountain, comes to a high point, levels off, and then turns to the right, dropping down a bit across a boulder field as it crosses near the summit of the mountain. From there, you go slightly higher until you reach the cabin. As Rachel reached the bare part of the trail above, a very heavy snow began falling, and she was never seen again. Search and Rescue looked for her a long time, but finally ended the search when winter set in.

In spring of this year, Rachel’s family and friends started climbing the trail again over many weekends trying to locate some trace of Rachel and find out what happened to her. There are no illusions. Everyone involved knows this is a recovery attempt, but they would like to bring her home and give her a proper burial. There is a GoFundMe page set up to help cover expenses of the many friends and volunteers, as well as the costs of her family going up there in their ongoing search of a very rugged area. Their Facebook group is HERE.

Rachel’s car was discovered at the trail head and her hiking gear was not in the vehicle. At least one person reported seeing her on the trail, going up. It is believed that when the snow hit, she could not continue on, and she couldn’t go back because going back in that area required backtracking through some ‘up’ part of the trail. One theory is that Rachel may have tried short-cutting straight down the mountain and through the woods in an effort to escape the snowfall as soon as possible. Between two and four feet of snow eventually came down. From a point on the map above (shown by the red X’s), you can see the river below and a couple of roads, plus there would be better shelter in the woods. But what may look easy turns out to be very difficult.

At first, the terrain down into the valley is not that steep as it enters the woods. From there, it is perhaps two miles back to the main road. Unfortunately, the terrain becomes VERY steep after a short time, although it is also heavily wooded. Rachel may have fallen at some point, or become lost, or somehow was unable to continue. No one really knows. The large map at the top of this article shows what Rachel was facing, if in fact she decided to try going down to escape the heavy snowfall.

An overview. NOTE: This illustration was created right AFTER Rachel went missing, which is the reason it mentions there was still some hope of finding her alive. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. Nearly a year later, she still has not been found.

Since winter will be closing in on the North Cascades soon, at least one more search is planned and this time it will be the biggest one attempted. More than sixty people are expected to volunteer and a special K-9 dog unit trained in finding human remains are being flown in from the east coast. (It’s my understanding there is more than one dog on the K-9 team.) The organization 49th Parallel is doing much of the coordination for this search.

NOTE: Rachel’s family is absolutely adamant that no one except authorized volunteers or professionals organizing this search should try going out there on their own. It’s beyond dangerous, you would only get in their way. They will accept no responsibility if you are silly enough to try that, and strongly urge you NOT to do so. If you want to meet the folks who came up with this article, just go HERE.

Submitted by: Robert Blevins, Adventure Books of Seattle