Doctor and Daughter Missing Climbing Colorado Mountains

PHOTO: Michael von Gortler and Makana von Gortler, a father and daughter in Colorado who are missing after not returning from a climb at Missouri Mountain, are pictured in this undated file photo.
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A doctor and his 20-year-old daughter are missing in Colorado after not returning from a climb up 14,000-foot-high Missouri Mountain.

Michael von Gortler, 53, an emergency room doctor and his daughter, Makana von Gortler, a junior at the University of Colorado, were last heard from around 12:20 a.m. on June 22 when Makana texted her boyfriend, Paul Kasemir, 25, to say that she and her father were going to climb the mountain in Chaffee County that day and drive back on June 23.

The father and daughter, both experienced climbers, have taken these trips for many years, and Dr. Von Gortler has written articles about climbing techniques and safety.

Family members and friends fear that the two may have been injured and are lost in dense forest, or that they may have been buried in snow, which is melting this time of year and can be unexpectedly perilous.

Extreme Trips Are 'Dangerous,' Mother Believes

The yearly trip began around June 14 when the duo went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. That is the last time Melani Holton, Makana's mother, spoke to her daughter, who did not tell her of plans to scale the mountain. When the trips begin, she said, the two are usually unreachable in areas with no cell phone service.

"This is something the two of them have done over the years," said Holton, who has been separated from Von Gortler for many years. "You have the parents that take their kids to the beach for vacation. That's me. And you have the parents that take their kids camping or hiking. That's Mike."

Holton said she has always been against the trips because she thinks they are dangerous, but Makana, which is Hawaiian for "gift," continues to accompany her father on them. Nevertheless, Holton said her daughter has said that the trips have gotten too extreme for her but she continues to go to be with her father.

Once, on a similar climb with another father and daughter, the Von Gortlers decided to go off-trail. The friends remained on-trail and grew worried when the Von Gortlers were nowhere to be found at the bottom. They contacted mountain rangers, who found Michael and Makana six hours later.

The father and daughter had planned to spend a few days after the climb at Dr. Von Gortler's vacation home in Buena Vista, Colo., before returning to Boulder, on June 25 or 26.

Holton thought she might see her daughter on June 26, but said it was "routine" when she did not hear from her and assumed she was catching up with her boyfriend and friends after the trip.

On Monday, when Holton did not hear from her daughter after trying a phone call, and voicemail and text messages, she began to feel "uneasy."

When she arrived at work the next morning, she had an e-mail from Makana's boyfriend saying he had not heard from her yet.

This is when she truly became concerned, Holton said.

"If he hasn't heard from her, this is not good," she said.

She began making more phone calls and contacted the Chaffee County sheriff's office. Dr. Von Gortler's car was found parked at the trail head, and a search began on Wednesday with skilled searchers, a sniffing dog and an airplane.

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