Missing hiker not first to disappear inside Olympic National Park

By Seabury Blair Jr.
For Peninsula Daily News

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It seems like every decade or so, somebody disappears in Olympic National Park.

This decade, it's Bryan Lee Johnston, who vanished last month reportedly while hiking in the Ozette area of the park.

More than 50 park rangers and volunteer search teams from at least three counties have been looking for any clue as to Johnston's whereabouts.

They haven't found anything but his truck, parked at the Ozette trailhead.

Inside, rangers found receipts from several Port Angeles businesses dated Aug. 22, the day he left his Seattle home.

The 71-year-old had planned a two- or three-day hike on the Ozette Loop Trail.

That's about a 9-mile loop that follows a mainly plank trail for 3 miles northwest to the Pacific Ocean, then turns south along the beach for 3 miles, then follows a second plank trail inland for another 3 miles to the trailhead.

It is virtually impossible to lose the plank trails, but the portion of the hike along the beach could be rough, especially if tides are high and one must climb around a couple of steep headlands.

Those areas have been extensively searched, according to Barb Maynes, park spokeswoman.

Rangers also have searched far south of Sand Point, where the trail turns inland.

They continue to investigate by talking to people who may have seen him and distributing fliers with his description: white hair worn in a ponytail, blue eyes and standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall.

Jinny Longfellow, Johnston's older sister, has said she strongly believes he's still alive and is awaiting his knock at the door of her Port Angeles home.

“I pray every night that he will come,” the 86-year-old woman said last week, “and I'll take a walk with him, any place he wants to go.”

But as of Thursday, nobody had seen Johnston for 21 days.

At least three other people have disappeared while hiking in Olympic National Park in the past 25 years.

While several bodies have been discovered in the park during that time — including human remains found in the former Aldwell lake bottom last year — none has helped solve the mysteries of what happened to John Devine, 73, of Sequim; Gilbert Gilman, 43, of Olympia; or Stefan Bissert, 23, a German exchange student.

Bissert, a Fulbright scholar at Oregon State University, went hiking with a friend Jan. 20, 1992.

Poorly equipped for a night out in the winter Olympic Mountains, he had planned a solo day hike from Sol Duc Hot Springs, over High Divide, and out to the Hoh River trailhead — a distance of 24 miles.

Devine, who was said to be an experienced hiker, had intended to hike into the park from 6,796-foot-high Mount Baldy in Olympic National Forest.

That peak is reached by the extremely steep and rugged Maynard Burn Trail.

Despite a weekslong search, marred by a tragic helicopter crash that killed three, no trace of Devine was ever found. It was Sept. 6, 1997.

Most intriguing, perhaps, was the disappearance of Gilman, deputy director of the state Department of Retirement Systems.

He reportedly went hiking in the Staircase area June 24, 2006.

Rangers and volunteers searched the area for 10 days after finding his Thunderbird parked at the trailhead.

A ranger reported contacting Gilman that morning when he was playing his auto radio loudly.

Gilman's boss, Sandy Matheson, pressed for an extended search.

Some Kitsap search volunteers and others weren't convinced Gilman had met his demise in the Olympics.

They talk about the Shady Lane Trail, which leads downstream on the south side of the Skokomish River, eventually joining the Lightning Peak Road, Forest Road 2451.

That road crosses Lake Cushman at Bear Gulch and joins Forest Road 24, which eventually leads to Hoodsport, U.S. Highway 101, and anywhere in the world to hide.

Seabury Blair Jr. is a frequent contributor to the Peninsula Daily News. Email Blair at Skiberry@pwimail.net.

Last modified: September 13. 2013 2:00AM
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