Miss­ing hiker, wild­fires tax na­tional park

Rappahannock News - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Ann Kuhn

As 100 fed­eral, state and vol­un­teer search and res­cue teams look for a miss­ing woman hiker in the Shenan­doah Na­tional Park, a Rap­pa­han­nock County hik­ing guide who, for 30 years has hiked the pop­u­lar White Oak Canyon, shared some in­sights into one of the park’s most spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­fall hikes, now the scene of a chal­leng­ing res­cue.

It’s there at White Oak trail’s park­ing en­trance in Madi­son County that a U.S. Park Ranger found an aban­doned ve­hi­cle at 8 p.m. last Satur­day. It was a 2009 cream-col­ored Mini Cooper be­long­ing to 31-yearold Ni­cole K. Mit­ten­dorff of Wood­bridge, a Fairfax County ca­reer fire­fighter/para­medic who en­joyed hik­ing, and as her fa­ther, Robert Clardy, has said, the avid run­ner and triath­lete may have gone there to train for a race.

Hunt Har­ris, who lives in Woodville, has been hik­ing White Oak for three decades and is well-known in the hik­ing world around the park. He said that vol­un­teer res­cue work­ers have been con­tact­ing him about the miss­ing woman and he has sup­plied maps and hik­ing in­for­ma­tion to as­sist.

“I know White Oak Canyon like the back of my hand,”

said Har­ris in an in­ter­view yes­ter­day. “It’s my fa­vorite place to hike in the whole world. I’ve hiked it more than any other place in the park.” He said he has hiked it “hun­dreds of times” not only in day­light but also moon­light hikes.

Har­ris said there is lit­tle-to-no cell cov­er­age at White Oak and it is very steep ter­rain. While it typ­i­cally takes about four hours to do the hike, he said a fit per­son could do it in three hours.

“It de­pends, if you go there for so­lace, it’s one kind of hike,” he said. “If you go there to work out, she prob­a­bly would have done the loop of White Oak and Cedar Run which is more stren­u­ous and about eight miles.”

Clardy wrote in a Face­book post that his daugh­ter’s last con­tact with fam­ily was a week ago Wed­nes­day morn­ing (April 13), and her last known lo­ca­tion was Warrenton. Adding to the mys­tery, Fairfax County fire of­fi­cials re­vealed yes­ter­day she called in sick April 13. Her hus­band, Steven Mit­ten­dorff, a Vir­ginia State Po­lice of­fi­cer, re­ported her miss­ing af­ter she failed to show up for work last Fri­day.

PARK AN­NIVER­SARY MARRED BY FIRE

As the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, in­clud­ing Shenan­doah Na­tional Park, cel­e­brates its 100-year-an­niver­sary, not only is it con­tend­ing with a miss­ing hiker but some 3,000 acres, about 30 miles from White Oak Canyon have been on fire. Over 200 per­son­nel, two he­li­copters, one air­craft and eight fire en­gines are work­ing to con­tain the wildfire that started last Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to the park ser­vice. Of­fi­cials are not sure what caused the fire but think it may have been caused by hik­ers.

For fire­fighter and vis­i­tor safety, Sky­line Drive, the scenic road­way that runs through the 105-mile park, is closed be­tween mile 65 around Swift Run Gap to mile 79, Loft Moun­tain. In ad­di­tion 12 miles of the Ap­palachian Trail are closed in­def­i­nitely as well as 14 other Shenan­doah trails, ac­cord­ing to the park ser­vice.

The fire is ex­pected to spread fur­ther; rain­fall is not ex­pected un­til Thurs­day night.

WHITE OAK HIKE

The White Oak Canyon - Cedar Run loop that Ni­cole Mit­ten­dorff may have hiked “is a great hike for ath­letes and na­ture lovers alike, though the full hike is not for couch pota­toes out for their na­ture fix,” said Har­ris. “I use this loop for stay­ing in shape for ten­nis and gen­eral con­di­tion­ing.

“The trails are in very good shape, well main­tained,” said Har­ris. “The wild­flow­ers along the trails are spec­tac­u­lar, es­pe­cially at this time of year. Tril­lium, jack- in- the- pul­pit, wild gera­nium and many oth­ers are to be found along the trail.

“There are some in­ter­ac­tions with an­i­mals, cop­per­heads and tim­ber rat­tlesnakes from times to time, wa­ter snakes, black snakes, and oc­ca­sion­ally you might see a bear, but there is of­ten no other an­i­mal sight­ing on an en­tire hike.”

There are steep banks on ei­ther side of the mid­dle sec­tions of both White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run, said Har­ris, “and to stray off the trails is a not rec­om­mended. There’s plenty of poi­son ivy and poi­sonous snakes, and one can get eas­ily thrown off-course when deep in the woods in a wilder­ness-like area such as this. “

Whether Mit­ten­dorff told any­one where she was go­ing of­fi­cially has not been re­leased.

“Let­ting some­one know where you are in­tend­ing to go is al­ways a good idea when head­ing out into a hik­ing area where there is lit­tle or no cell ser­vice,” said Har­ris. “I’ve been deep into the canyon and had a cou­ple of in­ci­dents where I got in­jured, was alone, was off-trail and had not told any­one where I was, and thank­fully I was able to get out safely. I still go out hik­ing alone, though now I usu­ally let some­one know that I’m do­ing so, and where and when I’m head­ing out.”

As the search con­tin­ues with air­craft and dogs for Mit­ten­dorff, park rangers have closed the fol­low­ing trails in­def­i­nitely in the White Oak Canyon area: White Oak Canyon, Cedar Run, Lim­ber­lost, Crescent Rocks, White Oak Canyon Fire Road, Cedar Run Link Trail and the Sky­land to Big Mead­ows Horse Trail be­tween White Oak Canyon Trail and the Old Rag Fire Road.

Mit­ten­dorff, who has been with Fairfax County Fire and Res­cue since 2013, is de­scribed as a 5-foot-6inch woman with blond hair and green eyes weigh­ing about 125 pounds.

Vir­ginia State Po­lice are treat­ing this as a miss­ing­per­son case even with the pas­sage of time and have said there is no ev­i­dence of foul play.

The fam­ily has set up a Face­book page and web page to aid in the search. Click on find-ni­cole.com

The Vir­ginia State Po­lice is ask­ing that any­one with in­for­ma­tion call 703-8030026 or email ques­[email protected]­ginia.gov

Hunt Har­ris said there is lit­tle-to-no cell cov­er­age at White Oak and it is very steep ter­rain. While it typ­i­cally takes about four hours to do the hike, he said a fit per­son could do it in three hours.

Miss­ing: 31-yearold Ni­cole K. Mit­ten­dorff

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