LA PLATA MOUNTAINS – Runner David Lunde left his apartment on the James Ranch, where he worked with cattle, at six in the morning on Saturday and drove into the mountains of the San Juan National Forest northwest of Durango. He arrived at the trailhead to Madden Peak sometime before 7 a.m. His plan: Run a portion of the La Plata Enchilada, a 20- to 40-mile loop that navigates around the summits of Madden, Gibbs and Parrott peaks.
Then he disappeared.
“He fueled himself up with lots of food,” his father, Nathan Lunde said. “He had peanut butter. He had yogurt and water. There’s things in his car that showed us he ate well. And then he probably just had some running shorts and a T-shirt and his shoes.”
“He thought it would be a few hours,” said David’s mother, Marybeth Lunde.
“And then I think the rain, or the weather hit at approximately 10:30 a.m. And at that time, we don’t know where he was,” Nathan said.
“And then we heard snow,” Marybeth said.
David’s girlfriend Haley Hamilton suspected something was wrong when he didn’t show up to move the cattle Saturday night. David would never do that. When he was still missing Sunday morning, she called the authorities and then she called the Lundes at their home in Cooperstown, North Dakota. They knew without a doubt that something was wrong and made arrangements to fly to Colorado.
They arrived Monday and were onsite in the La Plata Mountains yet again Wednesday as La Plata County Search and Rescue, the La Plata County Mounted Patrol, members of the Durango Running Club (Lunde was a member), and other friends continued to comb the rugged and heavily wooded terrain – to no avail.
Heavy afternoon rains and even hail were once again a factor in how long searchers could safely stay in the mountains Wednesday. The National Weather Service confirmed that the inclement weather, which has hampered the search window thus far, will continue with freezing temperatures and snow down to 10,000 feet of elevation.
Dave Harwood of the La Plata County Mounted Patrol said the search had covered the treacherous ridge referred to as the Knife on Tuesday.
“Now they’re between Parrott and Madden peaks,” he said noon Wednesday.
In the meantime, David’s parents retreated from their early morning vigil beside their son’s car, still parked at the trailhead, to a search and rescue command vehicle where they could listen to updates from searchers.
The Lundes described their son as incredibly fit. He finished seventh among a field of more than 700 runners in the Thirsty 13 in August – “With a smile on his face the whole way,” his father said. David ran his first marathon after finishing eighth grade. He ran two half marathons earlier this year, and was in training for a six-summit run on his 30th birthday – Oct. 23.
“He wanted to do something special for his birthday,” Nathan said. “He was going to use it as a kind of fundraiser for a ranch in South Dakota (Rockside Ranch in Rapid City), a kind of Christian organization that helps troubled young men. He didn’t want the run to be about himself, he wanted it to be about helping some guys that needed it.”
The Lundes expressed gratitude to all the search and rescue staff members and volunteers, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, David’s friends and the Gospel Church of Durango, which has organized prayer vigils and donated food to the searchers and the Lunde family.
“What a gift of time and love to help us find our lost son,” the parents said in a statement to The Durango Herald.
David is a man of faith, a strong quiet faith, his parents said.
“He’s not the kind of guy that’s just going to talk about it, he lives it,” his father said. “And when the opportunity was there he would tell you who the lord is in his life and why he is the way that he is. So that has been encouraging to us and that’s why through this storm we are going through that we really believe, you know, that he’s in God’s care.”
“Whichever way it goes,” Marybeth said. “If he’s no longer in his body, we know that he’s with Jesus in Heaven.”
The search continued Thursday morning.
“Today marks one year since I moved to Durango and started work for the James Ranch. What a year filled with so much to be grateful for. I live and work at a place that awes me with its beauty on a daily basis. My bosses Joe and Jen are incredibly kind and encouraging. They labor alongside me every day in the nitty-gritty of ranch work. I’m doing what I love stewarding creations bounty of cattle and pasture. Durango provides an environment and culture that spurs me to be active and enjoy the great outdoors. There’s an endless amount of adventure waiting around every trail. I’ve taken up running and exploring the mountains with rad friends. I’m having a blast with volleyball. I’ve taken a stab at salsa dancing. Heck, I even bought a mountain bike though it’s still a hobby in progress. Today I spoke at a holistic management conference teaching about our pasture and grazing management at the ranch. The opportunity to share struck me as a particularly fitting cap to my first year as it was an opportunity to take a holistic management class that eventually led me to the James Ranch. A plant flourishes in healthy soil. And here in Durango, I feel like I’m blossoming.”
An earlier version of this story included a photo caption that misidentified Keven Lunde, the uncle of David Lunde.