Hiker lost at dunes was not first time

SAND DUNES — Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve staff on Wednesday released the name of a missing man whose body was found on Monday near Milwaukee Peak — Bryan Skilinski, 40, of Phoenix, New York — the same person who had been rescued in February after five nights missing in the park.

Details were similar between the two incidents, but the outcome this time was tragically different.

In February Skilinski had been found in relatively good health after spending five nights in the elements after becoming disoriented during a hike at the dunes. The search began at that time when staff noticed an unattended vehicle in the park’s horse trailer parking lot along Medano Road and discovered the driver of the car, Skilinski, was missing. Skilinski had entered the park on Saturday, February 11, and was successfully located on February 16 about a mile and a half south of the park visitor center.

More than 28 people from multiple agencies and search and rescue groups assisted with the February search efforts.

The New York resident and former Navy man returned to the dunes this summer, and once again his unattended vehicle was noticed in a parking lot, this time at the Sand Pit Picnic Area. He had last been seen on May 8 leaving that lot. He had not obtained any permits with the park or left a trip itinerary with family regarding his whereabouts or destination.  

In an interview with a Syracuse, New York newspaper after her son was rescued in February, Skiliniski’s mother Maxine had stated that it was not unusual for her not to hear from her son regularly. She had described her son as low-key and independent. However, she had become worried when she did not hear from him when she expected to. At that time Skiliniski had rented a car and driven from New York to Colorado to visit the dunes. He had expected to be gone a week, his mother stated.

On that February visit Skiliniski took a hike on February 11 and became disoriented and lost but was rescued after spending five nights in winter weather including snow storms, high winds and temperatures as low as the teens at night.

Back at the dunes this summer, Skilinski was once again the subject of search efforts after staff followed up on an unattended vehicle that had been parked at the Sand Pit picnic area along Medano Pass Primitive Road since May 7. Search efforts began on May 14 and included aerial, ground and canine search and rescue crews. The search expanded with additional resources covering a 14-square-mile area of rugged terrain the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area around Mount Herard a peak in the dunes preserve.

Assisting local searchers were dog teams from Larimer, Park, and El Paso counties, US Forest Service Monument Helitack, Flight for Life, and Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Multi Mission Aircraft.
A few days into the search, crews had to scale back their efforts due to bad weather including snow and high winds in the high country where the search was focused.

When conditions improved on May 20, searchers expanded their efforts to additional 13 square miles within the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. The search at that point involved aerial assistance via helicopter in the Cold Creek and Sand Creek drainages.

The investigation continued in a more limited mode, even after the search was scaled back in late May.

On Sunday, June 25, seven weeks after Skilinski went missing, hikers discovered his body near Milwaukee Peak in the National Preserve, an area that had not been part of the original ground search due to deep, heavy snow at lower elevations. (The park and preserve encompasses more than 140,000 acres including rugged high altitude and wilderness terrain, staff pointed out.)

Custer County Search and Rescue, Saguache County Search and Rescue and the Western Mountain Rescue subsequently recovered Skilinksi’s body between Milwaukee Peak and Marble Mountain on Monday.

On Wednesday, June 28, the Saguache County Coroner identified the body as Skilinski.

The coroner’s office has not released a cause of death in the case, and the incident remains under investigation. No foul play is suspected.

Park staff had been in close contact with the victim’s family since May and extended gratitude to the agencies that assisted with the search in May as well as the recovery.  Those agencies include: the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office, Saguache County Coroner, Custer County Sheriff’s Office, Saguache County Search and Rescue, Custer County Search and Rescue, Western Mountain Rescue, US Forest Service Monument Heli tack, Flight for Life, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control’s Multi Mission Aircraft as well as dog teams from Larimer, Park and El Paso Counties.

Park visitors are encouraged to alert loved ones or park staff to their hiking plans when visiting remote locations.