GRAND COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Skeletal remains found on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in August 2020 are believed to belong to a German hiker who went missing 38 years ago.
Rudi Moder, 27, of West Germany set out on a hike on Feb. 13, 1983, from the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead on Highway 17. The mountaineering trip was only supposed to last two to three days.
“He was back country skiing in a remote area, northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Kyle Patterson, spokesperson for the park.
Moder was reported to be an experienced winter mountaineer. When Moder was overdue from his trip, his Fort Collins roommate reported him missing. By Feb. 20, rescue teams were in the field, conducting aerial and on-foot searches. More than a foot of snow had fallen in the Never Summer Mountains where Moder was believed to have crossed through, making search efforts difficult.
“The timing of that storm, right before a major search occurred, certainly added to the challenge back then,” Patterson said.
According to RMNP officials, searchers found a food cache belonging to Moder as well as a snow cave with more of his belongings inside. The four-day search did not yield Moder.
In August 2020, a hiker at around 11,000 feet happened upon skeletal remains in the Skeleton Gulch area, originally part of the search perimeters sanctioned for Moder. The remains were found with skis, poles and boots, along with remains of personal items believed to belong to Moder.
The area where his remains were discovered yielded some clues about what would have happened to him while he was backcountry skiing that year.
“They saw quite a bit of evidence of avalanche activity in that area,” Patterson said.
It’s believed Moder was claimed by an avalanche while he scaled back down the mountain.
The Grand County Coroner’s office looked at dental records to try and officially identify the remains, but the results were inconclusive. U.S. officials have been in contact with the German government for assistance in identifying the remains and notifying the family of Moder, who would be 65 years old.
The discovery of these remains could mark the end of a nearly 40-year-long cold case. Efforts to properly identify the remains are still ongoing.
In the more than 100 years since the park has been established, officials say Moder was just the fifth person reported to go up the mountain and not come down.
Four others are still missing: one person from 1933, two Colorado State University students in 1949 and another in 2019.