Skull identified as Vermont hiker

The skull of a Vermont hiker who disappeared in Desolation Wilderness before a December snowstorm was found by hikers about a mile from Eagle Lake.

Steven Dowden, 53, disappeared Dec. 13 when he walked into Desolation with only a backpack. He had hailed a cab from Stateline and directed the driver to drop him off at Eagle Falls trailhead.

A return plane ticket to Vermont was unused, and he never checked out of his room at Harveys Resort and Casino.

On Sunday, a group of hikers from San Jose, Calif., found a skull and notified authorities. On Monday, a California Highway Patrol helicopter was dispatched near the site where deputies were dropped off, according to the coordinates left by the hikers.

Dowden's dental records provided by the Douglas County Sheriff's Department were given to El Dorado Detective Coroner Pete Van Arnum, who confirmed the identity.

Because of Dowden's lack of equipment and the severity of the storm, Douglas Sheriff's Sgt. Tim Minister said he expected Dowden's remains to be found by hikers.

Van Arnum and the sheriff's search-and-rescue team plans to revisit the area Friday to find more remains and the backpack.

When Dowden disappeared, a storm soon followed, dumping several feet of snow.

"I would say if he got caught in that storm he couldn't get out and died of either hypothermia or exposure of some sort," Van Arnum said.

The remains have likely been covered by snow since June, he said.

Last summer, remains of a 60-year-old woman who shot herself were found on Spooner Summit by picnickers.


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