Jeffery Rudd

Skier's disappearance baffles searchers
By Craig Medred, ADN 1/6/95

POWERLINE PASS:  Somewhere within a few minutes walk of the Glen Alps entrance to Chugach State Park, mountain rescue searchers now believe, the body of cross-country skier Jeffrey Rudd lies buried beneath drifted snow.

More than a dozen members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group turned out Thursday to make one last attempt to find the body of the 37-year-old skier who disappeared Christmas Eve within a mile of the Glen Alps parking lot.  The searchers moved slowly and methodically across the slopes most of the day, while a trio of search dogs worked with their noses.

"People wanted to come out and give it one more shot," said Doug Fesler of the Alaska Mountain Safety Center.  "There've just been no concrete clues found.  It's very strange."

No clues emerged Thursday day, either.

"It's a short distance (from the parking lot)," Fesler said. "but when you're searching it's a long distance."

Over the-years, the steep mountains surrounding Powerline Valley have claimed the lives of more than a half dozen people.  Avalanches, storms and cold weather often play a role.

That another recreationist might die here should surprise no one, but Rudd's apparent death is as mysterious as any case park officials can recall.

An experienced backcountry skier, climber and hiker, Rudd was last seen about 3:30 p.m. Christmas Eve on a well-traveled trail near a bridge across the South Fork of Campbell Creek.  His truck was parked at the Glen Alps lot, just a few minutes by ski along a well-traveled route.

He has not been seen since.

"It's a classic mystery," said Chugach State Park superintendent Al Meiners.

Friends reported Rudd missing when he didn't show up for a planned Christmas Day outing at Alyeska Resort.  Four days later, Chugach State Park rangers found his gray Toyota pickup.

Alaska State Troopers were called in.  An investigation and a search began, but no sign of Rudd was uncovered.

Troopers could find no evidence of or motive for foul play, nor uncover any reason why the regional manager for area 7-eleven stores would want to vanish.

Investigators who went to his home found the Saturday morning newspaper still spread out on a table as if Rudd planned to return home that evening and resume reading, said Chugach chief ranger Jerry Lewanski.

Rudd's truck at Glen Alps had not been disturbed since he locked it and left.

"From all we can figure," Lewanski said, "he just went out for a ski".

Many people were doing that In the Glen Alps area during the daylight hours leading up to Christmas Eve.

Once news of Rudd's disappearance hit the television and newspapers, nearly 40 of them called Chugach Park officials to report seeing the skier or someone fitting his description, Meiners said.

At least three of the reports turned out to be solid, said Lewanski.  After piecing together the accounts, researchers think Rudd skied downhill along the popular Middle Fork trail for six or seven miles to an intersection with a trail from the Prospect Heights trailhead.

Rudd talked to some other skiers at the intersection before turning around and starting back, Lewanski said.

Long day trips like this were not uncommon for Rudd.

"This was his main interest - outdoor recreation," said Dan Hourihan of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.  "He was a zero body fat individual."

At Rudd's home, investigators found a detailed training log, the kind kept by serious athletes.  It told the story of someone dedicated to staying fit, someone who had accumulated a wealth of outdoor experience.

"The guy has real good skills,'' Meiners said.  "From all we can tell, he's a very cautious, methodical person.  He didn't take chances.

"He was also a gear-head, a big-time gear-head."

In fact, various investigators said, it is hard to believe you could find anyone much better outfitted or physically prepared for a day of skiing on the Middle Fork trail than Rudd.

To him, they said, the Christmas Eve outing was probably just another easy day trip to an area of the park free of avalanche hazard.

Rudd never told anyone where was going.  But many of the people searching for his body on Thursday said they'd done the same kind of thing many times and considered it safe.

And most indications suggest that the first part of Rudd's ski trip went fine, Hourihan said.

After turning around at the lower end of the Middle Fork Trail he skied the six or seven miles back through the woods onto the windswept, snow-covered alpine tundra near the Glen Alps parking lot, according to witnesses.

They reported a skier fitting Rudd's description near the creek less than a mile from the parking lot, Fesler said.

Joe Kurtak, a member of the Nordic Ski Patrol, watched the man ski down a steep hill on the west side of the creek, fall down and spend an unusually long time on the snow before getting up, Fesler said.

Kurtak was concerned enough about the fall that he dug out a pair of binoculars and watched the man that searchers are now confident was Rudd.

After three or four minutes, Fesler said, the man got up, started making his way toward the bridge across the creek and to well-traveled trail that leads from there to Glen Alps.

Given the short distance from bridge to the parking lot and the fact that there were still other skiers in the area, Kurtak decided Rudd was in no trouble and went off on his own ski trip.

Rudd was never seen again.

What happened between the bridge and the parking lot has been the source of much speculation.

"It's real strange,'' said Meiners.  "We don't think he lost it from exhaustion.  He was a real fit guy.  Maybe a fall, maybe illness."

"It's possible he went up on Flattop (Mountain)'' said Hourihan.  Rudd could have decided to make a few ski turns before going back to the car and ended up caught in an avalanche.

"That's always a possibility," Hourihan said, "but it's unusual.  He was very close to his car".

Fesler organized searches of several small avalanches in the area soon after Rudd's truck was found.  Searchers found nothing, but in the intervening four days, winds up to 70 mph had shifted snow all over the place.

Eventually, the winds transformed the area into a wind-blasted zone of grass blown bare and snow drifted 6 or 7 feet deep around stands of mountain hemlock and alders.

Fesler, Hourihan and others now believe Rudd's body is buried in one of those drifts.  Perhaps, Fesler speculates, some sort of catastrophic illness befell Rudd, and he crawled off the trail into the lee of a mountain hemlock for shelter - only to die and later be buried by drifting snow.

On Thursday Fesler stood on a hill above the bridge where Rudd was last seen.  He could point to places around him where the avalanche expert had helped organize searches to recover other bodies in other years.  Just across the valley, he'd helped find the body of a 16-year-old killed by hypothermia more than two decades ago.

"He was lost," Fesler said.  "He was lost right within sight of the lights of Anchorage".

No one believes Rudd was lost, though.  That is but one of the reasons his disappearance is so baffling.  Nothing got clearer after another day of searching.

"There's always the chance of foul play or he was ducking out of the country or something," Meiners said, "but that would be an odd one.  At this point, we still think there's a high likelihood he's out there somewhere."

Missing skier positively identified
ADN 5/16/95

The medical examiner's office in Anchorage has confirmed that a body found in Campbell Creek over the weekend is that of a cross-country skier missing for more than four months.  A hiker found the body of Jeffrey Rudd, 38, floating in the creek in Chugach State Park, authorities said.  Rudd, from Anchorage, was last seen on Christmas Eve while cross-country skiing near the Glen Alps.  Search crews spent days looking for the missing skier without any success.  Rudd apparently broke through some ice and fell into the creek, said Al Meiners, superintendent of Chugach State Park.