The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office is sending a crew into the Santa Rita Mountains on Wednesday, two days after a hiker apparently discovered several items that belonged to a man who went missing there in February.
The hiker found keys, a shoe, a fanny pack, two hiking poles and other items that appear to have belonged to Joseph Smallwood, an 82-year-old Ohio man.
Mark Wilson made the discovery Monday and detailed it on his hiking blog with a photo of the site where he found the items.
“I opened the waist pack and as soon as I saw the car keys, I knew this is what this was,” Wilson told the Green Valley News on Tuesday night.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Antonio Estrada said Tuesday the items didn’t include identification, “but there was other stuff that may have indicated it belonged to Mr. Smallwood.”
Estrada said the department has contacted Smallwood’s family.
“I thought it was important they know that something was found and could lead to find him or his remains,” he said.
Wilson said he found the site about a half-mile from Mt. Hopkins Road just below Whipple Observatory, close to a ridge line.
After making the find, Wilson hiked to a dorm operated by Whipple, where a man who had worked on February’s search and rescue effort went through the fanny pack and said it appeared to belong to Smallwood, according to the blog post.
Smallwood was hiking alone Feb. 5 when he called 911 about 4 p.m. and said he was lost and couldn’t find a trail. The call launched a search in the snow-covered mountains involving 120 people and agencies from eight counties. It was called off a week later, with Smallwood presumed dead.
According to the National Weather Service, it snowed in the Santa Ritas that first night, with temperatures dipping to 29 degrees and wind gusts reaching 30 to 40 mph.
Smallwood told dispatchers he had some food but searchers didn’t think he was equipped to spend the night.
Wilson said he found the items near a fallen tree at the end of a long hike where he also became lost for a short time, according to his post.
Estrada said it appeared searches “might have been a little off location” in February.
Wilson said he found two empty Gatorade bottles in the fanny pack and that the hiking boot was laced up. He said he didn’t smell any foul odors but quickly left the area.
“I would just love to be part of an effort to bring closure to this,” he said.