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Hiker lost on Cascade mountain; Ex-Northbridge man missing.

Byline: Linda Bock

A 31-year-old former Northbridge man has been missing on Mount Baker in Washington state since Saturday.

Jeff Parks, Whatcom County Sheriff's Department chief criminal deputy, yesterday said search efforts in the northern Cascades to locate missing climber Kevin Lafleur, who lives in Lyndon, Wash., were suspended late Tuesday because of poor weather and dangerous snow conditions. Significant new snow fell on the mountain and searchers reported not being able to proceed above the 6,800-foot level of the 10,778-foot mountain. The conditions made it impossible to find tracks or other indicators of Mr. Lafleur's location.

Chief Parks said the Whatcom County Sheriff's Department initiated a search and rescue mission after a friend of Mr. Lafleur's reported on Monday that he did not show up for work at an REI outdoor gear store that day. Friends told officials that Mr. Lafleur intended to climb Mount Baker by himself on Saturday because they were not available to climb with him that day.

Though the region in Washington has had a wet and cold spring, with on-and-off snowfall, Chief Parks said, "Saturday was real nice. But some areas are extremely dangerous.''

Chief Parks said Mr. Lafleur's vehicle was found parked on Glacier Creek Road, one of the standard trailhead routes on the mountain.

"He's climbed Mount Baker before," Chief Parks said.

Mark Jilk, Whatcom County Sheriff's Department search and rescue coordinator deputy, reported that about 25 volunteers from Skagit and Whatcom counties searched Tuesday on the lower areas of the Heliotrope Ridge on the west side of the mountain; and on the lower Easton Glacier on the south, Baker Lake side. The weather and snow conditions were horrible, according to searchers.

"There was about 6 inches of fresh snow in Glacier and about a foot of fresh snow at the end of Glacier Creek Road, covering up any possible ski tracks that we would have found from Mr. Lafleur," Deputy Sheriff Jilk stated in a report."There is a danger of avalanches. We're extremely concerned," Chief Parks said. "If he's up there, it's not good."

According to Deputy Sheriff Jilk, a couple of Mr. Lafleur's friends spent Monday night at about the 5,200-foot level on the Grouse Creek Drainage, the most likely route Mr. Lafleur would have taken. They reported 50 mph winds and heavy snow through the night.

Chief Parks said yesterday that the search may resume this morning, weather permitting. If conditions improve, he said, the department hopes to be able to check the area using aircraft.

The Whatcom County Sheriff's Department has been in constant contact with Mr. Lafleur's family and friends, according to Chief Parks. Mr. Lafleur's brother, Ryan, flew to Washington yesterday. Reached by telephone, he said he did not want to comment.

Gildersleeve "Jim" Beaupre, a longtime family friend who lives in Thompson, said he is trying to help organize additional searchers to support efforts by the Whatcom County Sheriff's Department and to support the family.

"I'm trying to get them some help," Mr. Beaupre said. "Kevin is like family. The Lafleurs are like family. We go to the same church; we all go to the same family gatherings."

Mr. Lafleur graduated in 1994 from Whitinsville Christian School in Whitinsville, Mr. Beaupre said, and is an avid climber, rock climber, skier and outdoorsman.

Mount Baker is an ice-clad volcano in the North Cascade Range, about 31 miles due east of the city of Bellingham, Wash. The entrance to the Mount Baker National Forest is at Glacier, 33 miles east of Bellingham and less than 2-1/2 hours from Vancouver, B.C., and Seattle, Wash.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Searchers have been combing Mount Baker in Washington for missing climber Kevin Lafleur, formerly of Northbridge. (2) Clouds cap Mount Baker, elevation 10,778 feet, in this file photo.

PHOTOG: (1) Photo courtesy of king5.com (2) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:646
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