Officials suspend large-scale search efforts for man missing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Search efforts in the Lake Haiyaha Area on March 6. Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park

Large-scale search efforts have been suspended in Rocky Mountain National Park for a 70-year-old Tennessee man who reportedly went missing in the park at the end of February, according to park officials.

The family of James Pruitt of Etowah, Tennessee, confirmed that the man was in the Glacier Gorge area, located in the middle of the park to the east of the Continental Divide, and hadn’t been heard from since about 10 a.m. Feb. 28.

His vehicle was found March 3 parked at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, at an elevation of 9,240 feet. At that point, rangers contacted his family.

James Pruitt Pruitt leaving Safeway in Estes Park on Thursday morning, Feb. 28 at 9:48 a.m.

Pruitt arrived to the area on Feb. 22, according to his family, and it was his third winter visit to the park over the past three years.

More than two feet of snow has accumulated in the Glacier Gorge area, making finding clues to Pruitt’s whereabouts even more difficult.

The overall search area encompassed about 15 square miles and included the Glacier Gorge drainage, the Loch Vale drainage and the Glacier Creek drainage. Searchers concentrated efforts in the heavily forested areas near Bear Lake and the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, the Nymph Lake area, Chaos Creek area, the Alberta Falls area, Lake Haiyaha, Mario’s Gully east of Lake Haiyaha and the winter trails to Mills Lake and The Loch. Off snow-packed trails, searchers encountered chest-deep snow in numerous areas.

Approximately 40 people were involved in initial operations, including 29 people in the field.

Assisting Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue team members has been Larimer County Search and Rescue, Rocky Mountain Rescue based in Boulder County, Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol, Douglas County Search and Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team, numerous dog teams from Larimer County Search and Rescue, Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States, and the Colorado Search and Rescue Board.

On March 5, a multi-mission aircraft from the state assisted efforts with fixed-wing aerial reconnaissance over Sky Pond, Lake Haiyaha, Flattop Mountain and Bierstadt Lake.

Almost two feet of snow has accumulated in the Glacier Gorge area since the day Pruitt went missing. According to officials, the recent snowfall in the mountainous terrain make finding clues to the man’s whereabouts even more difficult.

Pruitt may be wearing a blue jacket, red or orange hat and microspikes on his hiking boots.

Park rangers are asking anybody that was in the Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake areas since Feb. 28, or who may have had contact with Pruitt regarding his planned route, call Rocky Mountain National Park at (970) 586-1204.

Patrols will continue to occur in the search area, and further actions may be considered as conditions improve. Reported clues will be investigated as appropriate.

Pruitt’s disappearance marks the first this year in the park, but the third since October 2018.

Twenty-year-old Micah Tice, a U.S. Air Force cadet candidate, was last seen in the park Nov. 24 in the Longs Peak area. And Ryan Albert, a 30-year-old man from New Jersey, was reported missing by a family member Oct. 5, who had last seen him leaving the previous day for Longs Peak.

Vast search efforts for both men have turned up little to no evidence since their disappearance.

The area marked with the red pin denotes the area of Glacier Gorge, which is believed to be James Pruitt’s last whereabouts.

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