On July 12, 2014, Edwin Birch (64) and his son Zack Birch (37) started a day hike of a section of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. Edwin dropped off Zack at the Summerland Trailhead, from which Zack hiked south alone. Edwin drove on to the Olallie Creek Trailhead, where he parked the car and proceeded to hike north. The two planned to meet on the trail, transfer the car keys to Zack and then rendezvous where Edwin would exit at the Summerland Trailhead. They met at the Ohanapecosh Park area and then continued on their separate ways. Zack made it to the Olallie Creek Trailhead around midnight and then drove the car to the Summerland Trailhead, but his father never arrived. He reported his father missing around 1:30 on the morning of July 13.
On July 14, Mt. Rainier National Park request assistance from Portland Mountain Rescue. PMR deployed a team of four rescuers early on July 15. From the Sunrise parking area, a Chinook helicopter transported the PMR team to the Ohanapecosh Park area. After commencing a search of their assigned area, the PMR team was reassigned to another area. This required an overnight bivouac and bushwhacking through difficult terrain. Completing this assignment consumed the full extent of daylight on July 15. The team finally made it out to a road for pickup around 8:30 p.m. that night.
Meanwhile a second PMR team of two searchers reported to the search area on July 15. They joined a rescuer from Seattle Mountain Rescue and another from Central Washington Mountain Rescue to attempt a search an area near the Ohanapecosh River. Due to difficult terrain and bushwhacking, they were unable to reach their final objective, but searched a possible exit route for the subject. They were out of the field around 8:00 on July 15.
After additional days of searching Edwin Birch has not been found. The National Park Service has transitioned to a “limited continuous search”. PMR encourages hikers who become lost to back track if they can confidently do so. If you cannot confidently backtrack and you know someone will be looking for you in the general area, stay put or move to an area that is higher or clear where you can be easily seen or heard. Traveling off trail can be dangerous, doing it alone is even more dangerous, especially with the added stress of feeling lost.