Flasher story raises fears for lost hiker

A photo of Kate Heuther with her dog, Heuther's usual hiking companion. »Play Video
A photo of Kate Heuther with her dog, Heuther's usual hiking companion.

NEAR BONNEVILLE DAM, Wash. – With authorities saying "every minute is crucial," searchers are racing against the clock to find a hiker missing since Thursday and presumed lost on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The hiker's friends on Monday even brought her dog – Katherine Heuther's usual traveling companion – to help find the scent. However, nothing new turned up Monday and the search was called off for the day around 5:30 p.m.

Searching resumed Tuesday morning.

Now, friends also want answers about a report they heard was made the same day Kate Heuther disappeared. They call this new report a "troubling" development.

We now know that the Skamania Sheriff's Office is investigating a claim that a man exposed himself to a woman on that same trail the same day Kate went for her hike.

The birthday trail
An avid hiker, Heuther told friends she was going for a quick hike Thursday around 3 p.m. By Saturday she was reported missing.

Searchers began looking for 23-year-old Katherine Heuther on Sunday, and they have found one clue – a receipt on the trail with her name on it – to help narrow their location.

Her landlord and roommate David Danowski said he has searched many areas looking for her, including the Pacific Crest Trail where he said Heuther texted she was headed. Other friends also have left detailed notes showing their search areas.

"We're kind of getting to the point where we're heart sick," Danowski said. "At five days we're concerned, because of the weather condition. And it's her birthday today."

Heuther's 24th birthday is Monday, March 8.

A sheriff spokesperson said that – at this point – they still don't believe foul play was involved in Heuther's disappearance. That's why they are working from a base camp near the Bonneville Dam, operating under the premise that this hiker is just lost somewhere off a trail.

Helicopters circled Table Mountain throughout the day Monday while searchers checked roads off the beaten path. They say the clock is ticking to find the 24-year-old hiker.

"It's just a matter of time before we figure out where she's at up there," said Dave Cox, undersheriff for Skamania County.

However, the unexpected hail and snow blowing through Portland late Monday afternoon also could be a factor into the success of this Columbia Gorge: "It [has] started getting cool," Cox said. "We think the temperature out there was 37 degrees with rain."

Suspicion sets in
Friends say Heuther's disappearance is unusual. And so is the fact that searchers found a credit card receipt with her name on it on the trail.
"If there's any foul play...." a friend said. "I'm concerned why her receipt would be up there two hours from the trail head," a friend said. "I'm just a little bit suspicious of it."

Friends have reported that Heuther was not one to litter, especially not on a wilderness hike.

Even more troubling, Heuther's roommate said, is that report of a man exposing himself to someone on the same trail Heuther took just three hours before she was there. However, the Sheriff's Office has not been able to substantiate that report or find that man.

Sheriff Cox said Skamania County detectives are "checking into that," Cox said. "As law enforcement you're always curious about everything that goes on [so] that is something that is on our radar."

Cox did say that he still believes Heuther is somewhere in the Gorge. If so, he said her chances of survival are still good.