SEQUIM — The daughter of a 59-year-old hiker missing in the Buckhorn Wilderness since Monday morning found him Tuesday morning safe and sound as he walked down a U.S. Forest Service road, a Clallam County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.
Roger Gates became disoriented by smoke from British Columbia wildfires after setting out on a day hike Sunday morning on a route he knew well, said Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King of the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.
Gates had planned to return that night.
“He travels and hikes through the wilderness by his ability to view landmarks in the high country,” King said.
Wildfire smoke obscured those landmarks, and Gates became lost.
A family member was driving down a Forest Service road when Gates was spotted about 11 miles southeast of Sequim.
“He was trying to orient himself with the road system up there to find his way back to his truck,” King said at 11 Tuesday morning.
“He was walking. He did not need medical attention.”
King said a Sheriff’s Office search-and-rescue team had just set out for Buckhorn from the command post at the 7 Cedars Casino parking lot shortly after 9 a.m. when they received word that Gates was safe.
“We were heading into the hills,” King said.
Other jurisdictions that had been contacted to aid in the search were still en route.
Wildfire smoke was noticeable as soon as the search-and-rescue team deployed.
“It’s nasty as soon as you get any elevation from sea level and start heading up with the density of the smoke, and your visibility decreases pretty quickly,” King said.
“Those foothills, it’s pretty dense up there.”
King said Gates had a day-pack with him and that his family described him as well-prepared.
Gates had set out Sunday on a hiking loop that he is familiar with to check on game cameras he had placed in the Buckhorn Wilderness, King said.
Gates texted his family Sunday night to say he was delayed and called Monday morning to say he had been “turned around based on the smoke,” King said.
Gates said he was at Three O’Clock Ridge, about 8 miles south of Sequim, and that he thought he could make it back to his vehicle in about two hours.
Sheriff’s Office search-and-rescue personnel conducted an unsuccessful hasty search Monday evening around Forest Service Road 2870 and the trail leading up to Three O’Clock Ridge without success.
“It’s pretty steep country,” King said.
The Buckhorn Wilderness is in the northeast portion of Olympic National Forest, with sections in both Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Emergency aircraft from King and Snohomish counties were unable to fly to Clallam County due to the smoke.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].