Local and state authorities are searching rugged and remote terrain for a Santa Rosa family therapist who went missing Saturday while on a day hike during a camping trip in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Stephen Michael Morris, 59, of Windsor was reported missing late Saturday evening by friends with whom he was camping, after he didn’t come back from a day hike up to Billy’s Peak in the Stoddard Lake area of the national forest, which covers more than 2 million acres and includes Mount Shasta.
Morris and his wife, Carrie, run a family therapy practice in Santa Rosa. According to its website, the couple are Christian counselors trained and licensed as professional marriage and family therapists.
Officials from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office are leading the search which has been hampered by the difficult terrain — which is steep and angled in places and mostly decomposed granite, making footing slippery — and also a nearby wildfire, said Sgt. Will Oliver.
“We are actively searching,” he said, adding the disappearance did not appear to be suspicious. “At this point, we’re not treating this as anything but a hiker who is lost.”
Morris appears to have been on a backpacking trip with members of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa — a group backpacking event was scheduled for over the weekend, according to the church website. A staff member at the church confirmed a member of their congregation was missing and referred further questions to the Rev. Dale Flowers, the church’s pastor.
Efforts to reach Morris’ wife and Flowers were unsuccessful Monday. Church members said Flowers was heading to the area.
Morris and another man hiked up to Billy’s Peak on Saturday but on the way down from the summit, the two men became separated, Oliver said.
“It appears Morris got down faster than the other hiker and ended up getting far ahead of him,” he said. “They didn’t realize he was missing until the other man returned to the site of the camp.”
Oliver said the group retraced some of their steps in search of Morris but couldn’t find him. Two campers hiked to where they could get cellphone reception and were able to call for help at about 10:14 p.m. Because the area is so treacherous, the search couldn’t be started until Sunday morning, officials said.
The area where the group was camping has an elevation of about 6,000 feet, according to Oliver. The temperature in the past few days has been in the mid-80s but at night it has dropped 20 degrees, he said. Friends told authorities that Morris was an experienced backpacker and had some supplies with him.
“He had a few power bars and a small amount of water,” Oliver said. “He was prepared for a day hike, but he was not planning to be hiking all night.”
The National Park Service and search and rescue teams from Marin and Contra Costa counties were aiding in the search and the CHP provided a helicopter, said Oliver, who was expecting more aid in the coming days, if necessary. A command post has been set up at Coffee Creek, he said.
Staff Writer Robert Digitale contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin @pressdemocrat.com.
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