people visit Mount Hood National Forest each year. Only
a few of them go to the beautiful yet unforgiving Salmon-Huckleberry
Wilderness, where Steven Reed is thought to have
missing names that haunt Nolte are Kenneth Budlong,
a Nike executive lost on Mount Hood in 1995, and
Greg White, whose burned-out car was found near Timothy
Lake last year.
Holaday, the mother of Giles Thompson, one of two survivors
the 1986 Oregon Episcopal School tragedy, has just published
a book about her son's experience, titled The Mountain
Reed, was a thrill-seeker, his parents say--the type who
might be drawn to the edge of a cliff. Hope and Larry Reed
twice hiked the Salmon Butte trail looking for Steven. The
second time, Hope nearly fell from the same spot that a
psychic believes was the scene of her son's death.
sheriff's deputies led 41 wilderness rescue missions in
Clackamas County, which contains most of the more than 1
million acres that make up Mount Hood National Forest. Volunteers
did nearly all the searching.
Service officials at the Mount Hood information center in
Welches remember Reed asking a lot of questions about hiking
conditions in the area.
537 people got lost in the Oregon wilderness, according
to state figures. Two-thirds of them were men.
was a hard summer for well-educated young men in their 20s.
a doctor, and Joe Wood, an editor, were both lost
on Mount Rainier.
OES disaster was the second-worst climbing
accident in U.S. history. The worst occurred on Mount Rainier
in 1981 and killed 11 people.
Nolte says most searches last less than 24 hours. He and
his army of
volunteers spent seven days looking for Reed.
traveled twice to Pennsylvania
for gatherings of medieval fans. His email address, knight_fallen
@hotmail.com, reportedly reflected his disappointment at
not having more time for SCA activities.
did not learn that Reed was hypoglycemic until the third
the search. Reed's parents say his hypoglycemia was mild
and has been overblown.
September, Reed's parents learned that he passed the national
medical boards, the exam he had taken just before coming
summers at Albion, Reed pursued his interest in medicine,
taking fellowships at the Southwest University School of
Medicine in Dallas and the the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
July's criticism of the medical profession may have struck
a chord with the disillusioned med student. The hard drive
from Steven Reed's computer is in the Clackamas County sheriff's
office but deputies have not yet examined its contents.
Miranda July declined to show WW the letters
Reed wrote to her.
"Only the missing people get to forget."
When American Airlines Flight 1390 touched down at Detroit
Metropolitan Airport shortly before 4 pm on July 2, Steven
Reed was not on the plane.
Reed neglected to call his parents the day before to confirm
his arrival, an uncharacteristic failure. When their son
missed his flight, Larry and Hope Reed feared the worst.
"We panicked," his father recalls.
Reed, 24, was due back from a two-week vacation in Portland.
He had come West to recharge his batteries, to hike--and,
he hoped, to meet his favorite performer.
In the next five days, nearly 100 highly trained searchers
combed the treacherous terrain in the Salmon-Huckleberry
Wilderness of Mount Hood National Forest. Despite specific
information about where Reed had apparently gone hiking,
searchers didn't discover even the smallest clue about his
fate--then or in two subsequent missions.
Chris Nolte, the Clackamas County sheriff's deputy who
led the rescue effort, says that his department has conducted
hundreds of searches in the past 12 years; but only twice
has it failed to discover a trace of the missing person.
The names gnaw at Nolte, none more than Steven Reed's. "The
ones you don't find are the ones you remember," he says.
Nolte's best guess is that Reed got lost and died of exposure;
but without evidence, he says, he can't rule out the possibility
that Reed is in what searchers refer to as ROW--the rest
of the world, i.e. somewhere outside the search area.
Those who know Reed best say that it's possible he chose
to disappear. As evidence they point to his alienation and
his infatuation with the haunting words of Miranda July,
the performer he came to Portland hoping to meet.
"I don't think he's lost," says Emileigh Rohn, a close
friend. "I don't think this was an accident."
Steven Reed grew up in a three-bedroom, ranch-style home
in Sterling Heights, a middle-class suburb 20 miles north
of Detroit. An only child and only grandchild, Reed was
his family's focus. "He was going to be the shining star,"
says his father, a financial analyst at Ford Motor Co.
Instead of toys, the Reeds bought educational games and
flash cards for their son.
By the time Reed started first grade, his father says,
he tested at a sixth-grade level. His IQ measured 165.
Reed wanted to be a doctor from an early age, his parents
say. For his 13th birthday, he asked for a copy of Gray's
Anatomy. "He read it cover to cover and could cite it
chapter and verse," recalls his father. Reed was a solitary
child who spent most of his time reading. His tastes in
literature were eclectic, ranging from Nietzsche to Tom
Clancy to Anne Rice. Raised a Lutheran, he questioned that
faith and nearly everything else.
"He was a challenging young man," his father says. "He
never rebelled, but if he didn't agree he'd just say 'bye'
and follow his own path."
After graduating eighth in his high-school class of more
than 500, Reed attended Albion, a private college in Michigan.
Away from home for the first time, he branched out. A girlfriend
introduced him to gourmet food and good wine. He joined
the Society for Creative Anachronism, a national group dedicated
to reviving medieval customs. Slight at 5 foot 9 and 145
pounds, he nonetheless delighted in donning armor and jousting
with other SCA members.
Despite his new interests, Reed excelled academically,
graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. From Albion,
he went on to medical school at Wayne State University in
Detroit, plunging ever deeper into his studies. "He never
came up for air," his father says.
The second year of med school culminates in a grueling
national examination. The day after the exam, Reed treated
himself to a long-anticipated vacation. "He'd been researching
Portland for a year or so," his father says. "It seemed
to fit what he was looking for."
Reed arrived in Portland on June 19. He picked up a 1998
Maroon Chevrolet Cavalier at Rent A Wreck on Southwest Canyon
Road and checked into the Portland International Youth Hostel
on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, paying for 13 nights in
advance. The next day, phone records show, he contacted
OHSU and Legacy hospitals about residencies. He also bought
eight bottles of wine, visited Spirit Sound Flutes at Saturday
Market, purchased a ticket to a Bach concert and a bought
a book titled God Is a Verb at Powell's.
On Sunday, June 20, he called to wish Larry Reed a happy
Father's Day. At the end of the brief conversation, Hope
Reed jumped on the line. "The last thing I remember saying
to him," she recalls, "is, 'You aren't going climbing alone?'
He said, 'Mother, I know better than that.'"
Two days later--June 22--Reed drove to the Mount Hood Information
Center in Zigzag. He bought a parking pass and collected
trail guides for two hikes--Ramona Falls and Salmon Butte.
The Salmon Butte trailhead is 6.6 miles down a dead-end
road off Highway 26 in Zigzag. One of only two maintained
trails in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, the path up
Salmon Butte rises steadily, gaining 2,897 feet in 4.4 miles.
The lightly used path snakes along steep dropoffs and winds
through second-growth Douglas fir and lodgepole pine trees
interspersed with patches of rhododendron. From the 4,800-foot-high
top of the butte, hikers can see Cascade peaks ranging from
Rainier to the Three Sisters.
On the day officials think Reed set out for the Salmon
Butte, the snow line was at 3,500 feet and even lower in
heavily forested areas. It was an ideal hiking day--the
high of 68 was 8 degrees warmer than normal.
The next day, however, more than an inch of rain fell and
the temperature dropped sharply, reaching a high of only
51 degrees. For the next four days, conditions remained
wet and cool, with lows in the mid-30s.
On June 25, the Clackamas County sheriff's office dispatched
a deputy to investigate a car reported abandoned at the
Salmon Butte trailhead. On the seat of the car, a 1998 maroon
Cavalier, the deputy noticed trail guides for Ramona Falls
and Salmon Butte. A check of the car's registration yielded
When Reed failed to arrive at the Detroit airport on July
2, his father immediately called Rent A Wreck and the Portland
hostel. The news from both was bad: no Steven. Larry Reed
then called the Mount Hood Information Center. When he described
Reed's car, staffers made the connection--it was the same
vehicle the deputy had checked on June 25.
At 9:30 am on July 3, Chris Nolte received a call from
the Mount Hood Information Center notifying him of a lost
If anyone could find Reed, it would be Nolte. A veteran
of 12 years of finding lost hikers, the 39-year-old deputy
is well-known in rescue circles. At 5 feet 10 inches and
a couple of belt holes north of 200 pounds, he's more bloodhound
than greyhound, but friends say there's no map of Clackamas
County more precise than the one in Nolte's mind. He instructs
sheriffs from across the state in rescue techniques and
is often summoned to help other counties with difficult
searches. Like all deputies, Nolte does his share of routine
patrol, but he spends his spare time training his bloodhound,
Marshall, and volunteering for rescues that he's not already
Nolte's career in search was shaped by a tragedy that occurred
just after he joined the Clackamas County sheriff's department.
On May 12, 1986, a group of 10 students and three faculty
members from Oregon Episcopal School in Southwest Portland
were trapped in a powerful spring snowstorm while trekking
up Mount Hood. The hikers set out before daylight that morning,
intending to summit and be home for dinner. Instead, nine
of them died on the mountain, killed by hypothermia before
rescuers could find them. Their deaths radically changed
search and rescue in Oregon. "After OES, the difference
is night and day," says Lou Serafin, a Clackamas County
deputy who was involved in that search and hundreds of subsequent
Unlike the days before OES, searchers now continue through
the night. Hikers don't stop dying at dark, Serafin explains,
but they often stop moving, which makes them easier to find.
Most people who get lost in the Mount Hood National Forest
are novices hiking alone on trails, rather than climbing
the mountain, according to Irv Wettlaufer of Pacific Northwest
Search and Rescue. Thanks to the popularity of cell phones
and global-positioning systems, the number of people requiring
rescue has continued to range between 25 and 50 per year,
even though the number of annual visitors to the Mount Hood
National Forest has increased from 27,000 to 106,000 since
In Oregon, all wilderness searches are run by county sheriffs.
The rescuers they deploy are nearly all volunteers, who
must be state-certified and complete at least 32 hours of
additional training each year. "Search is a pretty developed
science," says Rocky Henderson of Portland Mountain Rescue.
"We use statistical probability quite heavily."
Developed by Canadian rescuers, these so-called "probabilities
of detection" give searchers a methodical way to approach
their task. By conducting experiments in varied terrains
and observing the behavior of lost hikers, experts have
calculated the probability that a hiker will be in a given
area and, further, the probability that searchers will find
Searchers are thus able to methodically approach vast tracts
of land like the 44,600-acre Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness,
which contains Salmon Butte. Each year, the Clackamas County
sheriff mounts between 25 and 40 rescue attempts. Perhaps
only one of them is as large as the search for Reed.
By 2 pm on July 3, Nolte had assembled about 20 volunteers
from Pacific Northwest Search and Rescue, Search One K9
Detection, Portland Mountain Rescue and the Civil Air Patrol.
For three days, searchers ignored the holiday weekend and
focused their attention on the bluff of the butte and the
area just south.
By July 6, the search team had grown to 70 people. The
Reeds had arrived from Michigan, and Nolte was pulling out
all the stops. That day he called in a helicopter from the
304th Air Force Reserve Rescue Squadron. The helicopter,
equipped with a heat-detecting camera, probed ravines while
crews known as "ground pounders" paced high-probability
areas in gridlike patterns. Nolte's report describes the
treacherous conditions searchers worked under: "Teams in
the field indicated that the areas off the trail were extremely
difficult to navigate and littered with unseen and uncharted
hazardous terrain features."
On July 7, after five days and thousands of man-hours,
the rescuers' topographical maps resembled a completed crossword
puzzle--except they hadn't solved the mystery. Nonetheless,
the deputy told the Reeds he didn't think there was any
point in continuing. Reluctantly, they agreed and returned
Still, Hope Reed refused to believe her son was dead. She
acknowledged that searchers had done all they could, but
that didn't mean there weren't other options. A secretary
for the U.S. Army, Reed is also an astrologer. She decided
to call on searchers of a different sort. She contacted
psychics who claimed expertise in locating missing persons.
One of them, a Denver-area woman known as Sid, telephoned
Nolte with a description of where she thought Steven Reed's
On Aug. 11, in response to the psychic's vision, Nolte
sent searchers back out. The team included a German shepherd
named Klause, the only certified "cadaver dog" in Oregon.
Rescuers use three types of dogs, explains Klause's master,
Marty Neiman of Search One K9 Detection. In the first 24
hours a person is missing, they use tracking dogs, typically
bloodhounds, which work from a "scent article" such as a
person's favorite jacket. After a day, human scent fades
from the ground, and searchers bring in air-scenting dogs,
which are trained to find traces of any human in the atmosphere,
rather than on the ground. The last resort is the cadaver
dog, which detects decomposing human flesh. Neiman spent
14 months training Klause, first sensitizing the dog to
a chemical substance called "pseudo-corpse" and, later,
using body-fluid-soaked soil taken from underneath real
While Klause sniffed away, the two-legged rescuers went
to extraordinary lengths. They lowered a team of kayakers
400 feet down from the trail to search the confluence of
Bighorn and Cooper creeks. Poking around logjams and waterfalls,
the kayakers, like the other searchers, found nothing.
On Sept. 8, the Reeds returned to Oregon, this time with
a Michigan psychic named Judy Feathers, who believed Reed
had been rescued by a "mountain man" after falling off a
cliff and suffering serious injuries. Rescuers accompanied
them to specific sites on the trail, at one point rappelling
down a cliff face to search an area that Feathers believed
held Reed's glasses, water bottle and black Levi's jacket.
Again, they came up empty.
Trained in the cold logic of search, Nolte is diplomatic
about the role of seers, whom families often consult when
all else fails.
"We're willing to look at all possibilities," he says.
None of the paranormal predictors he's encountered has found
the missing, but, he says, "[Feathers] cited specifics,
and in my 12 years of dealing with psychics, I've never
seen that before."
As it turns out, Forest Service employees have regularly
encountered a man who lives on Salmon Butte at least part
of the year. But nobody has seen him since Reed disappeared.
Nolte and other searchers cite several reasons their massive
manhunt failed. The biggest is that the search didn't begin
until 10 days after Reed disappeared. The rule of thumb
is that a lost hiker can move eight miles a day, which means
Reed could have been anywhere in a circle with a diameter
of 160 miles. Further, the terrain was treacherous, remote
and washed clean by heavy rains. Finally, Reed suffered
from low blood sugar, which could have caused him to act
irrationally, walking in an illogical direction.
"My best guess is that he got off into the snow and couldn't
find the trail again," says PMR's Henderson. Then again,
Henderson concedes, "There's an equal chance that he's not
out there at all."
Once the horizon shifts away from the search grid in the
Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, the story of Steven Reed
enters the realm of speculation.
Although officials don't suspect foul play, there is a
film-noirish twist to the story. The first time Clackamas
County Detective Roxanne Cadotte spoke to Larry Reed, on
July 8, he inquired about the procedure for having a person
declared dead. Cadotte told him the question seemed premature.
The detective later learned that at his parents' urging,
Reed had bought $100,000 worth of life insurance in early
June. The policy was to go into effect July 1. The beneficiary
of that policy and Reed's modest trust fund? His parents.
Cadotte's notes from a subsequent conversation address
the obvious question: "Mr. Reed said he knows that it sounds
like they 'had him pushed off a cliff,' when you look at
the dates of the insurance policy; however, he said that
simply is not true."
The contents of Reed's rental car are also puzzling. A
criminologist found no fingerprints in the rental car, although
Cadotte says that's not uncommon. The car did contain three
items that any normal solo hiker might carry: a good camera,
a cell phone and, most surprising, Reed's trail guide.
If searchers can't find a body and foul play isn't the
answer, then the possibility that Reed chose to disappear
is harder to dismiss--and clearly harder to prove.
Why would Reed want to disappear?
Interviews with friends reveal that he was deeply unhappy
with his studies and his life in general. From the first
week of medical school, Reed struggled. John Whapham, a
classmate and friend, remembers that Reed's frustration
began in the most basic class, gross anatomy. "Steve would
stay long after everyone else," Whapham says. "I remember
him standing over a cadaver in tears. He felt he wasn't
living up to his own very high standards."
As time went on, Reed's frustration only increased. "He
was under a lot of stress," says Tiffany Farchione, another
classmate, "and the more stressed he got, the worse he did."
As the second year of school ended, Reed expressed fears
that he would fail to get a medical residency. "He was despondent
about his place in the class," Whapham says.
Frequently dressed in a black trenchcoat, black beret and
Lennonesque glasses, Reed was something of an oddity at
buttoned-down Wayne State. He alternately ignored his classmates
and sought their attention, says Farchione. "He was a little
eccentric," she recalls. "He'd walk into a lecture hall
with giant Pixie Sticks and eat them during class." Reed's
apartment was "like a medieval castle," Whapham says. Heavy
shades blocked the windows; candles always burned instead
of electric lights, and concrete gargoyle statues kept watch.
When Reed wasn't studying, he dived into Detroit's goth
subculture, hanging out at a club called Ascension UK with
Emileigh Rohn, a graduate student in biology. Reed also
belonged to a role-playing group that acted out vampire
stories. Despite these diversions, Rohn says he complained
that he was very lonely and had felt like an outcast his
In March, Reed sent an email to Whapham, his best friend.
At the end of the message was a quote from the liner notes
of the Portland performance artist Miranda July's 1997 album
Ten Million Hours a Mile:
The slow people always remember and the fast people
try not to remember, only the missing people get to forget.
They get to live clean lives under new names with no guilt
and no memories. Everyone is jealous.
Whapham says he thought nothing of the words at the time,
although it was unusual for his friend to append a quotation
to a message. He never told the police or Reed's parents
about the email. Farchione received a message with the same
quotation. She too worries. "What if it was his way of saying
goodbye?" she wonders.
Reed's interest in Miranda July bordered on obsession.
A 25-year-old performer who bears a passing resemblance
to a raven-haired Little Orphan Annie, July has earned critical
acclaim nationally for her films and monologues, which focus
on alienation and the transience of identity.
Reed apparently stumbled across July's work on the Internet
but never saw her perform. He wrote July three letters,
she says, the last one dated March 22. Each was several
pages long. Reed reportedly spent months on one of the letters,
which he asked Rohn to read. In it, he asked July to meet
him when he came to Portland and included the names and
phone numbers of references who would confirm that he wasn't
a stalker or a weirdo. He also sent July flowers, a prepaid
telephone card and a copy of his student ID card so she
could see what he looked like.
July says she never spoke to Reed. She wrote him a letter
and later a postcard but says she broke off communication
because she didn't want to meet him.
Questioned by Cadotte, July said that Reed seemed not entirely
pleased with the direction of his life and that he may have
wanted to disappear to start a new one. She says she was
surprised that the detective didn't seem to share her perception
of Reed's disappearance. "Maybe I watch too many movies,"
July says, "but I thought it was more mysterious than she
seemed to think."
Cadotte may be skeptical, but one of Reed's oldest friends
thinks July's apprehensions are correct. "That was the first
reaction I had," the friend says of the theory that Reed
chose to disappear. "He's got a lot of computer savvy; he
could easily create a new persona."
In all probability, Steven Reed died somewhere near the
Salmon Butte Trail. The area teems with coyotes, bears and
other animals that searchers say could have consumed his
remains. It's a safe bet that various rescue groups will
be back at Salmon Butte on a training mission soon, looking
for a scrap of clothing, a water bottle or Reed's glasses.
As for Cadotte, her file is still open, but Reed's disappearance
is a low priority for her. The reason is simple: "There's
no crime here," she says.
Then there's that slim possibility Reed was fed up with
his old life. In that case, as July said in a Portland performance
on Oct. 9, "Who wouldn't want to disappear?"
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Willamette Week | originally
published October 13,