Searchers in a helicopter looking for missing hiker James “Randy” Udall located the body of the Carbondale man on Wednesday.
A multi-agency search had been underway for six days in the Wind River Range of Wyoming after Udall, 61, did not return as expected from a solo backpacking trip there last week. Udall was expected to return to civilization on Wednesday, June 26, after departing on June 20. His family reported him missing on June 28.
Udall, brother of Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, had been a fixture in the region’s environmental community for decades and was a leading voice on matters of climate change, renewable energy and conservation. He was the initial director and founder of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a program that promotes renewable energy and conservation by working with property owners. He also was a former Outward Bound instructor and avid backpacker who had made regular trips to the Wind Rivers over the course of 30 years.
According to a press release issued Wednesday by the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, based in Pinedale, Wyo., an aerial search team spotted a male subject matching the description of Udall at about 2 p.m. Wednesday. The searchers found Udall lying on his side in a rolling, grassy area. His body was recovered via helicopter, and an autopsy is expected to be performed on an unspecified date in Loveland, Colo., according to the sheriff’s office.
More than 30 people on foot, horseback and in helicopters were involved in the search, including teams from surrounding counties, the Wyoming Air National Guard and the U.S. Forest Service. The search area encompassed 225 square miles.
Sen. Udall’s office released a statement on behalf of the family, calling the search efforts “heroic.” The statement said that while the autopsy is forthcoming, it appears that Udall died of natural causes.
“Randy left this earth doing what he loved most: hiking in his most favorite mountain range in the world,” the release says. “He appeared to be on the obscure, off-trail route that he had proposed to his family. The entire Udall family is touched beyond words by the tremendous outpouring of support from people around the country. Randy’s passing is a reminder to all of us to live every day to its fullest, just as he did.”
Udall left behind countless friends and colleagues in the valley, as well as a wife and three children, who are morning his loss.
Sloan Shoemaker, director of Carbondale conservation nonprofit Wilderness Workshop, said Udall was a “mentor and an inspiration” who provided “constant reinforcement” of Wilderness Workshop’s goals of protecting the area’s natural resources.
“The ripple effect he had was huge,” Shoemaker said. “He was a very progressive and thoughtful thought leader on energy issues. He really challenged the dominant paradigm in engaging and informed and humorous ways that made his contribution to the debate very accessible and poignant.”
No memorial plans were known as of Wednesday.