DENVER (CBS4) – The recovery of remains likely belonging to an elderly hiker who vanished two years ago is bringing closure to the woman’s daughter.

Grand County officials said this week they believe they’ve found the bones and backpack of Patricia Wallace, a 72-year-old grandmother who disappeared while hiking with friends on July 3, 2012, along Buchanan Pass in the Indian Peaks wilderness.

“I didn’t know how to describe if somebody asked about my mom, because it didn’t feel right to say she had died or passed away. I really didn’t have proof of that. And ‘missing’ was just such an empty, open-ended thing,” Katie Moore told CBS4. “The only way I could express it to somebody is it felt like being an orphan because I just didn’t know anything about what had happened to her.”

On Aug. 9, a family vacationing from Santa Fe, N.M., discovered a bone they thought might be human while backpacking in a remote area of Grand County.

Search crews later recovered more remains.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“This was a miracle. This was more than a needle in a haystack, when you’re talking hundreds of thousands of acres and square miles,” Grand County Undersheriff John Stein said.

He described it as a large, very remote wilderness area, approximately 9,800 to 10,000 feet in elevation. The remains were found in tall grass along uneven terrain.

Because the area was so remote — there was no cell phone service — the family wrote a note about their find and passed it onto hikers they met leaving the area. Those hikers then gave the note to the U.S. Forest Service, who gave it to law enforcement.

Wallace, who might have suffered from mild dementia, went missing along after she decided to separate from friends and take a less strenuous route. Search parties, including Moore’s family, scoured the area for 13 days.

Moore said she initially hoped her mother had joined another party or, even as horrific as it sounded, that somebody had taken her. She said those various scenarios would have provided closure to tragedy.

“Every little idea plays in your mind,” she said.

She said she’s grateful to the search parties.

“I can’t thank them enough. What they do is just amazing. I was worn out just thinking about it. I didn’t have to be out there physically exhausted,” Moore said.


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