18 years after the mysterious disappearance of 35-year-old Michelle Vanek, a beaten-up hiking boot found tucked away in the wilderness south of Vail may be able to provide desperately needed answers.

On Sept. 24, 2005, Michelle Vanek, along with a family friend, left Half Moon Campground at around 7:00 A.M. for her first attempt at summiting a 14er. She and her friend, who had already summited several fourteeners in his lifetime, separated close to the summit, with Michelle wishing to stop the attempt due to exhaustion. Michelle was told to continue following the trail while her friend went for the summit, he planned catch up with her later.

Unfortunately, on his way down, the friend was unable to locate Vanek. He continued down without catching up to her, turned around and went back up to see if he could find her, and talked to several hikers in the area. Nobody had seen her, and nobody would.

What followed was, according to 9News, the largest search in Colorado history, with over 800 volunteers searching for eight days. But still, nothing was found. No clothing, no markers, no evidence at all.

However, around a year ago in October of 2022, a man was hiking with his son in a fairly remote area north of Mount of the Holy Cross when they came across a beat-up boot in a boulder field. They took pictures, noted the boots location, and contacted Vail Mountain Rescue Group, leaving it where they found it rather than disturbing the sight.

With the help of a group of searchers and some forensic work, the boot was confirmed to be that of Michelle Vanek. While the discover certainly doesn’t answer every question, it does paint a much clearer picture as to what happened on that 2005 day. President of the board of Vail Mountain Rescue Group Scott Beebe believes that the boot shows Vanek did exactly what her hiking partner told her to do, but she mistook a natural path for a trail and followed it into an area that few ever enter.

“We know that the temperature that night got down into the low 20s up on the mountain. And I said ‘I think she laid down, and she went to sleep, and she didn’t wake back up.‘” – Scott Beebe

Image Credit: Matt Gross on Unsplash

Related: Lost Hiker Rescued After Plea For Help Livestreamed Via Wildlife Camera

Unofficial Networks Newsletter

Get the latest snow and mountain lifestyle news and entertainment delivered to your inbox.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.