Four Months After Rescue, Hiker Found Dead In Same Park

Just months after surviving a rescue, Bryan Skilinski returned to the Great Sand Dunes National Park for a hike that would end his life.

Hiker found dead in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Image of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. From Raechel Romero

In February, Bryan Skilinski, 40, was rescued from Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. The New York resident had spent five nights in freezing temps with no survival gear.

Three months later, he returned. Only this time he wasn’t so lucky.

Hikers found Skilinski’s body on June 28. But while there were clues to his time in the park, his death raises questions.

Missing Person

Park officials found Skilinski’s car unregistered and parked near Sand Pit Picnic Area. As the car was left for several days, they pronounced him missing and began a search and rescue efforts.

Skilinski entered the park May 8, and the search commenced on May 14. Officials intensively searched the 150,000-acre park for a week before scaling back efforts.

His whereabouts were a mystery until his body was discovered this week. The cause of death is unknown.

Seeking Answers?

Four months prior, Skillinski hiked through the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

“I was trying to find motivation for the next 40 years of my life,” Skilinski told CBS Denver. “I wanted to exert myself. I didn’t want to go to the extremes that I did.”

He slogged through feet of snow trying to find his way out of the park. As the snow piled higher, Skilinski recounted he’d said, “This isn’t going to stop me, three feet isn’t going to stop me. Four feet isn’t going to stop me. I’m going to keep going. Why? I couldn’t tell you.”

A team of park rangers, dogs, and airplanes searched for Skillinski. They found him after five days of wandering.

Skilinski Missing Again, Found Dead

For the recent incident, Skilinski was last seen on May 8, departing from the Sand Pit Picnic Area.

Park staff scaled back a search after a week. High winds and snow limited productivity and safety of the crew.

Dog teams from Larimer, Park, and El Paso counties, U.S. Forest Service Monument Helitack, Flight for Life, and Division of Fire Prevention, and Control’s Multi-Mission Aircraft supported the search effort.

Together, they searched a 14-square-mile area near Mt. Herard in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.

Weeks after the effort ended a group of hikers came across Skilinski in an area where officials hadn’t searched. They were hiking near Milwaukee Peak and Marble Mountain when the body was found.

The motivation for Skilinski’s recent trek is unknown, and his body is undergoing an autopsy. Officials expect a ruling on the cause of death to take four to six weeks.

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Midwest born, Nate Mitka started with Gearjunkie after a short stint as “intern”. An advocate of all outdoor activities he’s developed some habits, like running without headphones, eating raw vegetables, and fixing the chain on his ratty old bike.

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