Remains Found in Colorado National Park Believed to Be Man Who Went Missing 38 Years Ago

by Jennifer Shea

A German man disappeared in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park 38 years ago. Now National Park Service officials believe they have found his remains in an area torched first by the Cameron Peak Fire, then by the East Troublesome Fire.

Rudi Moder vanished on Feb. 13, 1983 after departing the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead on Colorado Highway 17 near Cameron Pass. The seasoned mountaineer never returned. On Feb. 19, his roommate reported him missing. But more than a foot of snow fell in the mountains that night, complicating search efforts.

The searchers did manage to find Moder’s food cache at the mouth of Box Canyon. Then they found a snow cave along with Moder’s sleeping bag and gear. But that was the most they could unearth of Moder’s whereabouts, despite searching throughout that spring and summer.

Flash forward to summer of last year.   

“In mid-August of 2020, skeletal remains were discovered by a hiker in the Skeleton Gulch area, near avalanche debris,” the NPS said in a recent press release. “This summer, park rangers further searched the scene and found skis, poles and boots, along with remains of personal items believed to belong to Moder. The FBI Evidence Response Team assisted park rangers with the recovery of remains.”

The Grand County Coroner’s office tried to identify the remains using dental records. But the findings were inconclusive. So now NPS officials are working with Germany on the case, notifying Moder’s family and continuing the dental record analysis.

Last Summer’s Investigation Cut Short by Rocky Mountain National Park Wildfires

The efforts to investigate were foiled by two wildfires that tore through the area. First came the Cameron Peak Fire, which began on Aug. 13, 2020 and burned through roughly 208,913 acres before firefighters contained it on Dec. 2, 2020.

By the time it subsided, the Cameron Peak Fire had burned a path through the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Rocky Mountain National Park. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, according to the Incident Information System.

The East Troublesome Fire, meanwhile, was also one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history. Together with the Cameron Peak Fire, it burned nearly 30,000 acres within Rocky Mountain National Park. In total, 9 percent of the park went up in flames, per the NPS.

The wildfire started on Oct. 14, 2020 in Arapaho National Forest. Thanks to high winds and low humidity, the fire spread quickly, ultimately torching 193,812 acres. By Nov. 30, 2020, firefighters had it contained, but not before it had destroyed or damaged 366 homes and 214 commercial structures.

Luckily for Moder’s family, after both wildfires died down, park rangers were able to return to the area and resume their search. Their ultimate goal is to repatriate Moder’s unearthed remains to Germany for burial.