Search and rescue crews found the body Monday of a 75-year-old hiker who had been missing in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains since Wednesday.
State police confirmed Monday night that the body, found about 2 miles north of the Santa Fe ski basin, is that of Audrey Richman Kaplan. The cause of death will be determined by the Office of the Medical Investigator.
The discovery came at about 2 p.m. Monday, less than half an hour after rescue crews found the first clues in the five-day search: a Trader Joe’s shopping bag and a second bag that may have held a poncho, both of which belonged to Kaplan. They also came across the remains of a small fire that Kaplan may have made.
Search and rescue crews had been looking for Kaplan since she went missing off the Winsor Trail on Wednesday. Her body was found about 1.2 miles northwest of Wilderness Gate.
Torrential rains, fog and cold nighttime temperatures — constant factors during the monsoon season in Santa Fe — hampered search efforts Friday night and Saturday. More than 50 people were out Monday looking for Kaplan. Just as her body was discovered by one of seven search teams, search and rescue leaders called in all of their teams due to incoming rain, fog and thunderstorms enveloping the mountains.
Judy Allison, a longtime hiking friend, said Monday night that there was no way to know if Kaplan had been injured or how long she had been dead because nobody had touched the body yet. “But there was a monster storm Thursday night,” Allison said. “More than an inch of rain. Thunder and lightning. She was just ill-equipped.”
Allison speculates that Kaplan turned left along the fence line at Wilderness Gate and headed toward the north side of Aspen Peak looking for mushrooms. When she realized it was time to go back, she was too far north and at an elevation lower than Wilderness Gate. She kept walking east and ended up in drainages. If she had realized that she was in the Nambé drainage, she would have known she could follow it east and get back on the Winsor Trail, Allison said, but, “I think the weather got in her way.”
Peter Dickson, the Public Safety Department’s incident commander for two days of the six-day search, said Kaplan and her husband, Norman, were at Wilderness Gate on the Winsor Trail at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning when she wanted to take a short hike toward Aspen Peak. Her husband decided to wait. When she didn’t return by about 12:15 p.m., he and some other hikers began looking for her.
After an hour and a half, Norman Kaplan decided “something was up” and returned to his car in the ski area parking lot, Dickson said. Kaplan drove down the ski area road until he could get cellphone service and called in a missing person report.
Dickson said that 75 or 80 people helped with the search each day, including wildland firefighters, the sheriff’s posse, the National Guard, Atalaya Search and Rescue, and even some searchers from out of state. Tracking dogs and helicopters also assisted.
The teams combed the Winsor, Elevator and Raven Ridge trails, among other sites, but Dickson said that because she was hunting mushrooms, “We knew she would not stick to the trails.”
The area north of Wilderness Gate is big and rugged, he said, and, “It’s a difficult search.”
Dave Gold, who leads a Meetup hiking group, was with a group in the mountains last Wednesday. He said he was even on Aspen Peak but, “We didn’t see her or hear her.”
The hikers with him, he said, are noisy and anybody in that vicinity “would have heard us.” Moreover, “We would have seen people. That makes me think she never got there.”
No matter how short the hike, Gold always carries extra food, clothing, a poncho and first-aid equipment because “getting lost can happen to anyone. People really need to realize that. And by yourself, you have to be ready for everything.”
Although hiking in the mountains is pretty safe, he said, “You have to respect the wilderness. You don’t have to be be scared, but you have to respect it. “
Recalling stories told to him by a friend who was lost for some time in the mountains, he said, “It’s brutal.” As for Kaplan’s story, “It’s truly sad,” he said. “Tragic.”
Volunteer searcher Steve Crawford said Monday that “it is easy to get lost in the area. … Parts of it are very steep and there is a lot of deadfall [fallen trees and brush] in the area.”
Over the years, several people have disappeared into the mountainous forests of the Santa Fe and Pecos region.
For instance, nine hikers got lost off the Winsor Trail while hiking in the summer of 1986. Two others died off that trail the previous winter.
Santa Fean Mel Nadel disappeared in September 2009 near Elk Mountain in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. He was 61. In August 1998, Emma Tresp, 71, disappeared on her way to a spiritual retreat at Pecos Monastery after he car got stuck on the road. There has been no sign of either one since.
Audrey Kaplan lived in Dallas with her husband, but the couple were staying at their Santa Fe home at the time of her disappearance. Norman Kaplan works as a clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Reporter Anne Constable contributed to this story.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.