On November 20, 2012, I posted:
Hope is fading that a Staunton man has been able to survive a week lost or injured in the vast George Washington National Forest in western Augusta County. Rescuers decided Monday night to call off the search.It's still a mystery all this time later. There have been subsequent searches that turned up nothing. How could someone who was an experienced hiker just disappear without a trace is a question that continues to bother many, and something I think about every time I'm on Shenandoah Mountain.
Robert Fitzgerald, 60, has not been heard from even though his car was found parked in the area. Inside searchers found his backpack with power bars and bottled water and other supplies.
It was a cold 25 degrees at my house this morning with heavy frost on the ground which means colder temperatures up on Shenandoah Mountain located about 20 miles west of Staunton. Anyone who has driven to Highland County out Rt. 250 west of Staunton has driven over Shenandoah Mountain. At the very top, at the Augusta County-Highland County line, is a parking area with a breath-takingly scenic overlook that takes in the mountains of Highland County and beyond into West Virginia.
It also documents the Confederate Breastworks, site of Fort Edward Johnson during the Civil War, with interpretive signs of the historical importance with a circular trail along the top of the mountain. Many other trails are in the vicinity, and that is where Robert Fitzgerald disappeared sometime last week.
A Tuesday article in the Waynesboro News-Virginian by reporter Bob Stuart noted that Fitzgerald was physically fit and very familiar with that area of the Shenandoah range because he had hiked it for the past 15 to 20 years.
Fitzgerald appears to have hiked the trail with a friend on Sunday, November 11, and lost his cell phone at that time. It is believed he returned the following day to search for the phone, and disappeared into the wilderness. No one has heard from him since.
He reportedly was not dressed in cold weather gear and, even though days have been comfortable in this area the past week, the nights have been cold with a low of 20 at my house one night which means temps in the teens up on the mountain.
The owner of Staunton's Wilderness Adventure store remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects for Fitzgerald, who was a regular customer.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
March 14, 2014