Image: Makana and Michael Von Gortler
Courtesy Paul Kasemir
Makana, 20, and Michael Von Gortler, 53. Father-daughter pair have been missing in Colorado mountains for more than a week.
msnbc.com
updated 6/30/2011 3:36:10 PM ET 2011-06-30T19:36:10

A helicopter search Thursday of a four-mile hiking trail on a 14,000-foot peak found no sign of a father and daughter missing on a hiking trip, but the woman's aunt says family members still hope for a successful rescue.

Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer says Dr. Michael Von Gortler, 53, and his daughter, 20-year-old Makana, a University of Colorado student, went to hike up Missouri Mountain on June 22.

The last time they were heard from was when Makana texted her boyfriend on June 21 to say they were going hiking, Palmer said. The pair were due to return home June 23.

Missouri Mountain is in the San Isabel National Forest near Buena Vista, Colo. At 14,073 feet high, the peak is one of 53 mountains in the state over 14,000 ft.

Colorado National Guard spokesman Darin Overstreet says a National Guard helicopter joined the search when it resumed Thursday.

Dave Cotten, spokesman for the Chaffee County Sheriff, said Thursday that search teams have found no new evidence of the pair's whereabouts.

An 'off-trail' pair
Makana's maternal aunt, Suzanne Kutz, said a new search and rescue team and five dogs would also join the search Thursday. The dogs are being airlifted to areas where the pair are believed to be.

Cotten said 24 people are looking for Mike and Makana, but bad weather has slowed their progress.

"They are looking mostly in the treeline area, which is almost vertical; it's three to four miles long," Kutz said.

The treeline area is where "Mike" and Makana may have gone off-trail on their descent, Kutz said.

"His intent would be to take the trail up to the summit and create our own special trail on the way down," she said. "If he did that, they could be way out in the woods on the mountain."

In a previous incident, Mike and Makana once became separated from friends for three hours on the same mountain after going off-trail, Kutz said.

"Mike's strategy was always to sit and wait for help, but Makana would have eventually tired of that and went looking for help," she said. "That's why I think they're both injured."

Kutz said Mike Gortler has an obsessive nature when it comes to hiking. He always makes an exhaustive packing list, including collapsible containers for collecting rain water and fire-making supplies.

Holding onto hope
The entire family is holding onto hope, Kutz said. Several family members went looking for the pair on their own for several hours during a lightning storm.

Today is the birthday of Melani Holton, Makana's mother, and Kutz said all she wants is to be able to hug her "little girl."

"It's really hard," Kutz said. "My sister doesn't want to give up an ounce of hope yet, she's very stoic. She and I aren't giving up, absolutely not giving up. We don't want to believe the worst."

"It's quite serious, we still have snow, it's very rugged terrain ... it's not very easy walking at all, it's very steep, very windy," Palmer said.

Michael Von Gortler works as an emergency room doctor at a hospital in Boulder, Palmer said. He owns a home in Buena Vista, near Missouri Mountain.

Palmer said dozens of people were involved in the search operation, including many from other areas who had volunteered to help.

"We'll do all we can to help bring these hikers home," Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, the Colorado adjutant general, said in a media release, according to the Denver Post.

The Post said park rangers had found Michael Von Gortler's pickup parked at the mountain trailhead.

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