Skeletal Remains Found in Rocky Mountain National Park Could Solve a 38-Year-Old Mystery

Officials believe they've finally discovered what happened to Rudi Moder, a West German hiker who disappeared in 1983.

Photo: Courtesy National Park Service

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Skeletal remains found in Rocky Mountain National Park appear to belong to a 27-year-old West German hiker who disappeared near the park 38 years ago, the National Park Service said on Thursday.

Rudi Moder was an experienced outdoorsman who was living in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1983. On February 13 of that year, he departed from the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead near Cameron Pass for what was supposed to be a two- to three-night ski mountaineering trip across Thunder Pass and into Rocky Mountain National Park. When his roommate reported him overdue six days later, search and rescue teams began attempting to locate him, but their efforts were hampered by more than a foot of fresh snow.

Over the course of their four-day search, teams managed to locate Moder’s food cache and gear, as well as a snow cave he had apparently made in the northwest corner of the park, but never found Moder himself. Further searches that spring and summer failed to turn up any additional clues.

In August 2020, a hiker discovered skeletal remains among avalanche debris near the park’s Skeleton Canyon area, the National Park Service said in a press release. National Park Service rangers conducted an initial investigation, but the agency had to redeploy resources after the Cameron Peak fire began to threaten the west side of the park.

When snowmelt uncovered the area again this past summer the investigation resumed; rangers found ski equipment and personal items believed to belong to Moder and recovered the remains with assistance from the FBI. After an attempt to match the remains to Moder via dental records was inconclusive, a forensic coroner in Germany worked to positively identify the remains. The NPS said that officials worked with the German government to notify Moder’s family and repatriate the remains.

Rocky Mountain National Park is among the most-visited parks in the National Park Service system. While accidents are not uncommon in the park, unsolved disappearances are rare. In an interview with the New York Times, NPS spokesperson Kyle Patterson said that with Moder’s identification, the agency only knows of four visitors to the park whose fates are still undetermined: a 22-year-old hiker who disappeared near Flattop Mountain in 1933, two hikers in their early 20s who disappeared during a storm in 1949, and a 70-year-old man whose abandoned car turned up at the Glacier Gorge trailhead in 2019.