Missing Windsor man Stephen Morris is an experienced, careful hiker who loves getting to the top of mountain peaks, friends and family said Wednesday.
But Wednesday marked the fifth day since Morris disappeared while hiking down a peak in the Trinity Alps in Northern California.
Dozens of volunteer searchers from numerous counties continued combing the ridges, ravines and rocky mountainsides but found no sign of the 59-year-old husband and father who was last seen Saturday descending Billy’s Peak during a day hike with church friends.
“He’s a great guy. He’s kind of an outdoorsman. He spends a lot of time camping and hiking. It’s a thing he likes to do,” said his brother-in-law Mark Hurty . “This is so tragic, it seems like such an ironic way for him to become lost.”
“He loved California mountain ranges and exploring them, and he loved going to the top,” said Dale Flowers, pastor at the Santa Rosa church where Steve and his wife, Carrie, worship. “This is what is so confusing. How in the world is he lost?”
Morris and eight other men from the church were on an annual backpacking retreat to the Trinity County mountain range, Flowers said. Their base camp was Stoddard Lake, and they spent days hiking the granite fields and trails.
Saturday, they’d set off for a nearby peak.
“They saw Billy’s Peak off in the distance not too far. Four decided to go there, and Steve was in that group,” Flowers said.
Morris had been prepared for a good hike, wearing long pants, his boots, a plaid shirt and a hat to protect his head from the sun. He also carried food and had water in his CamelBak.
During the descent, he got ahead of the group. When he hadn’t returned to the camp by late Saturday night, his friends alerted Trinity County sheriff’s deputies. An organized search began Sunday.
“They’re not going to pull out until they find him. It’s a two-hour hike in,” said Jessica Tillinghast, spokeswoman for the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s the Trinity Alps. It’s pretty rough.”
She said about 30-40 people were involved in the search Wednesday, and more were coming to help and possibly relieve some who’ve been searching in the back country since Sunday.
Wednesday, a team of six from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office arrived to help, including Sgt. Dave Thompson and five trained search-and-rescue volunteers.
Conditions worsened Wednesday as the cool weather at the start of the week changed and temperatures rose. The heat was coupled with the arrival of smoke from a nearby forest fire.
“Out there it’s probably a little bit worse,” Tillinghast said of the conditions for the searchers and the missing man.
Search crews have theorized Morris may have walked out of the search area, and they’ve tried to strategize where that path might have taken him. They’ve also considered “something happened in the first 30 minutes of them being separated and they have been combing and canvassing that region,” Flowers said.
“I did hear from my wife that the terrain there is very, very steep and very rocky and very dangerous,” Hurty said. “A misstep could be tragic.”
Waiting for news each day in Trinity County are Morris’ wife, other family and supporters.