By Erika Kar
This is the time of year that PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) hikers start showing up in Mazama. It becomes common to see them hanging around at the Mazama Store enjoying sandwiches, beer and pastries before hitchhiking up Lost River Road to get back on the trail to finish up at the Canadian border.
I like to give them rides whenever I can, knowing that there will be some interesting stories to be heard. Usually the hikers are NOBO (northbound) and are on the final leg, but just the other day, I gave a ride to three guys that were SOBO (southbound) and were just beginning. They had no tales to tell yet. Instead, I was able to tell them about Kris “Sherpa” Fowler, who went missing on the PCT almost two years ago around the area of White Pass. I asked them to keep their eyes peeled for anything unusual, including remnants of a pack or gear.
Kris began his PCT journey on May 16, 2016, at Campo, California. As is the tradition among long-distance hikers, Kris chose a trail name. He chose “Sherpa.” Before setting out on his trip, Sherpa agreed to contact his parents, Sally and Michael, about every two weeks.
Kris was a fit, smart and competent hiker. He could do 25-30 miles per day. But because of his penchant for taking side trips and rest days, he was on the trail for a long time. He is believed to be the very last NOBO hiker from the 2016 year. This put him in potentially dangerous territory in October when, as we know here in the Methow, the weather can turn from fall to winter conditions overnight. In early October, Kris had already experienced this. A hiker who was the last person to hike with Kris noted that they trudged through knee-deep snow in the Goat Rocks area east of White Pass on the afternoon of Oct. 8.
On Oct. 10, Kris signed the trail book at the Kracker Barrel at White Pass, “in near white-out … Canada, here I come.” He then hitchhiked to nearby Packwood where he stayed until Oct. 12. In Packwood, he ate, got his laundry done, bought some supplies and texted a friend. On Oct. 12, Kris “Sherpa” Fowler hitched a ride with a woman named Julie Jenkins from Packwood back to the Kracker Barrel on White Pass. Julie snapped a photo of Kris. That was the last known photo of him.
He spent some time at the Kracker Barrel trying to find a phone charger, eating a burrito and trying to call his dad. This was the last 100-percent confirmed known whereabouts of Kris. Sometime around 4:30 p.m., Kris is presumably back on the trail heading northbound. His last phone ping was at 5:43 p.m., from a cell tower near White Pass with a 5-mile radius, which could put him at 9 miles in on the trail. The moon was close to full and conditions were favorable. However, early on Oct. 13, the rain began and continued all day. The temperatures were in the low 40s and some higher elevations received snow. There is much speculation about what Kris did and where he went.
There was an unconfirmed sighting of Kris on Oct. 14 at Greenwater. There is talk that between Oct. 14-21, he could have weathered a storm at Ulrich Cabin at Government Meadows, 20 miles east of Greenwater. Then on Oct. 22, around 10 a.m., there was a credible sighting of Kris by some bear hunters. This was near Blowout Mountain, which is also close to the Ulrich Cabin. The hunters were interviewed extensively and it is as close to confirmed as one could get without a photo. The timeline all seems plausible until an unconfirmed sighting at the Mazama Store by employee Shawn Delaney. This sighting was purported to be Oct. 14-21, the same time that he was also thought to be near Blowout Mountain. Sally Fowler says that the sighting by Delaney was very credible too, but clearly he could not have been in both places.
So, here we are, 22 months later, with no answers. My mother’s heart breaks for Sally. She tells me that in her gut, she feels that Kris made it further north than he was given credit for, not because he was the best hiker, but because he was a determined person. He had sent ahead a package to Goat’s Beard that wasn’t there. Had he picked it up? Did he make it to Mazama after all? She just doesn’t know. But while we are all out there hiking various sections of the PCT, let’s be on the lookout. Sally wants me to ask people that if they see any of his gear, to not touch it, but to note the location and then call 911 as soon as you can with the coordinates. Any little thing could be a clue to solve the mystery of the disappearance of Kris “Sherpa” Fowler. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Facebook group, Bring Kris Fowler/Sherpa Home.