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Originally published June 21, 2014 at 6:45 PM | Page modified June 23, 2014 at 10:59 AM

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Body found during Mount Rainier search for writer/hiker

Searchers have recovered a body from an area of Mount Rainier where well-known outdoors writer Karen Sykes was last seen Wednesday. Identification of the body was still pending, but the search has been suspended.

Seattle Times staff and The Associated Press

Rescuers on Mount Rainier suspended the hunt for well-known outdoors writer Karen Sykes on Saturday afternoon after searchers found a woman’s body in steep, rocky terrain near where Sykes separated from her hiking partner Wednesday.

Crews searching on the ground and from the air near the Owyhigh Lakes Trail on Rainier’s east side found the body near the eastern branch of Boundary Creek. The remains have not yet been identified, but they were discovered within an area where rescuers had been searching for the 70-year-old.

The body has been taken to the Pierce County Medical Examiner.

“It’s really steep, rough terrain that’s not easy to travel in,” said Mount Rainier spokeswoman Patti Wold. “Hardly anyone goes there.”

Rescuers had been hunting for Sykes since Thursday, the day after her hiking partner reported they’d split up with plans to reconvene. Sykes had not been seen since. Her partner reported her missing the night before.

On Saturday, more than 100 people in seven ground teams, including two crews with dogs, scoured the mountain. Another team searched by helicopter.

Rainier officials don’t yet know the circumstances that led to the woman’s death. That area includes fragile snow bridges; wet, slippery rocks; and tree wells. One searcher last week was taken out on a stretcher after punching through a snow bridge. Wold said the park will conduct an investigation.

Sykes was working on a story when she and her partner encountered snow at about 5,000 feet on Wednesday. Her partner stayed as she went on. The partner, who made it safely back to the trailhead, reported her missing at 10:30 p.m.

Sykes was carrying adequate survival gear to camp overnight in an emergency.

Well known in the Northwest hiking community, Sykes has written numerous hiking stories for online publications and newspapers, authored a guide book about hikes in Western Washington, and co-wrote another book about hiking among wildflowers. For years she wrote a popular trail column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and produced additional stories about Washington treks for The Seattle Times.

She maintained a blog and posted thousands of photographs, snapping everything from rivers and jagged peaks to purple flowers, turtles and snakes. Her adventurous spirit often lurked just below the surface. She captioned one picture of a hike through thick, green underbrush this way: “We explore off trail despite there being no good reason to do so.”

This month, she wrote about a recent trek along the Lime Kiln Trail near the south fork of the Stillaguamish River.

The water there, she wrote, “will put a spell on you, make you want to take a Rip Van Winkle nap or construct a cairn as a few others have done. The trees reach down as if to drink from the river and a little downstream are private spots where you can find a lonesome niche to go Zen.”

Sykes’ disappearance came weeks after six Rainier climbers are believed to have fallen to their deaths while attempting to climb a challenging route to the summit of the 14,410-foot peak.

Close friend Lola Kemp had planned to hike with Sykes this weekend.

“She is the guru of trails,” Kemp said Friday in an email, adding that Sykes hiked at least twice a week and has a background in climbing and scrambling. “I find it difficult to imagine that she would get lost.”

Greg Johnston, a former outdoors writer for the Post-Intelligencer, described Sykes as an avid, strong hiker who knew the mountain extremely well.

“She’s the last person anyone would expect to get lost, particularly on Mount Rainier,” said Johnston, who recruited Sykes to write her weekly feature, which ran for more than a decade.

Staff reporter Craig Welch contributed to this report.

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