Two close friends of missing hiker in Skagit County were first to begin search for him

Day three wrapped up on Wednesday in the search of a missing hiker in Skagit County. 66-year-old Tom Simonseth vanished from the popular Hidden Lake Trails on Saturday.

Search and rescue crews with the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office began their official search Sunday. Crews from Snohomish County joined the efforts, as well as units from the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Navy. 

"They’ve got plenty to do, but they’re saying what you have going on is more important than what we have going on. So, we’re going to come help you. And that says a lot that’s positive. It said that people care and they believe there’s hope," said Mike Woodmansee who has known Simonseth since he was 5 years old.

For the last year and a half, Simonseth picked up hiking as his new retirement hobby. Woodmansee and Mark Nelson, another close friend, have been avid hikers since they were kids. They both encouraged Simonseth’s new love of the outdoors.

"He definitely found a passion, I think. And just took right off and being retired he was able to go during the week. And it’s difficult to go during that time so he’d go by himself," said Nelson.

Woodmansee said he texted Simonseth on Wednesday inviting him to join their group for a hike Saturday.

"He said, ‘I think I’ll pass on this.’ And I said, ‘Well okay, let’s you and I get out in the next couple weeks and we’ll get out on some snow and I’ll teach you some things.’ And that’s how that chat ended Wednesday," said Woodmansee.  

Officials said Simonseth went out on his own Saturday for a day hike up the Hidden Lake Trails in Skagit County. His wife, Rose, said he was due home in Mount Vernon by 7 p.m. that night, but had not heard from him since morning. She called Woodmansee for help.

"So, I said, ‘Rose, let’s give it an hour and if he is not home by an hour I’m going to call Mark and we will drive up there and we’ll start looking,’" said Woodmansee.

Woodmansee and Nelson had just started unpacking their gear after an hours-long hike that same day. However, they knew they needed to act fast and pack up again to help their friend. 

"We carry a satellite phone with us wherever we go because of all the backcountry stuff we do. GPS, maps, so we’re really prepared," said Nelson.

Woodmansee said he has more than 20 years of search and rescue experience with the county and gave officials the heads up they were going to look for Simonseth. 

"He was absolutely not prepared to be out overnight. He just had day hiking equipment. So that’s why we had to jump on it and get out here soon," said Nelson.

When they arrived Saturday night, the duo saw their friend’s car still parked near the trailhead. They began searching at 10 p.m. that night until midnight to take a nap in the woods and snow.

"We shivered until 4 a.m., got up, got moving," said Woodmansee.

The county’s search and rescue team officially started first thing Sunday morning with some promising leads on a snowy slope.

"People did see Tom go up that slope. And then the question is what did he do next? Did he choose to come down and get hung up in that head wall? Did he go down a different way?" said Woodmansee. "Because once you get above that you’re fine again, it’s moderate, nothing will happen to you. But you have to get back down and that’s where I think the focus is now—what did Tom choose to do when he decided to turn around?"

With no sign of Simonseth on Tuesday, Nelson and Woodmansee expressed how they were feeling.

"Sick. But no one is going to stop looking. The goal is to find Tom. He is a tough guy and has a lot of reasons to fight to make it. And that’s what you just have to count on," said Woodmnasee.

Search and rescue crews will pick up efforts early Wednesday morning. Simonseth’s friends said officials told them if he is still missing, the search will pause on Thursday due to bad weather. They said they hope the search doesn’t take that long.

"No stone unturned—that’s the attitude you have to have. You look behind every tree, beside every rock. You holler his name every minute just hoping to get that interaction," said Woodmansee.

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