PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Riley Zickel would often go stargazing at the top of a hill because he always wanted to be in nature, his friend Miranda Shakes told KOIN 6 News.
Three years ago, Zickel — then 21 — went on an overnight hike in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area. He was reported missing July 30, 2016. Despite an extensive week-long search that covered 350 square miles of forest, his body wasn’t found until 3 weeks ago by hikers in a glacial area above Jefferson Park.
The area is steep with loose rocks and avalanches, which made the recovery difficult.
The search and rescue crews “did a really good job the first time around,” Shakes said. “It makes sense it was in a hard-to-reach area and we’re all very thankful for their efforts.”
Zickel’s dad, Robin, was able to come from California to be there when crews carried his body out.
“We are grateful to the many organizations that helped make today’s recovery of Mr. Zickel possible. Without their contributions, we would not have been able to bring closure to the Zickel family after these three long years,” Sheriff Joe Kast said in a press release.
The sheriff’s office said the medical examiner will try to determine the cause of death in the next few days.
‘We all called him Old Riles’
“He did die doing something he really, really loved,” Shakes said. “I mean, in college every weekend Riley was always trying to go backpacking or hiking and really any time day or night.”
They were classmates and friends at Lewis & Clark and she said everything about him really made her smile.
“I remember one time myself, Riley and 2 of our friends were hanging out pretty late, and it was maybe 11 p.m. on a Friday night. And he says to my boyfriend at the time, ‘Hey, do you want to just, like, go camping right now?’ And I was like, ‘What?'”
But Riley and her boyfriend decided to go to Tryon State Park. They put up a tent in the forest and were woken in the morning by the local police. “You’re not allowed to camp here,” she said the police told them. She laughed as she spoke.
She described Riley, a chemistry major, as optimistic, goofy and always able to make someone smile.
He was also a talented musician who played bass and had a great voice, she said. Lewis & Clark College now has a Riley Zickel Endowed Music Scholarship that was established in his memory “to ensure that financial need is not a barrier for talented music students studying at Lewis & Clark.”
“He’s also the only person I’ve know to successfully have given himself a nickname,” Shakes said. “He kept referring to himself in the 3rd person as ‘Old Riles,’ so then we would all call him ‘Old Riles’ because that’s what he called himself.”
Miranda Shakes said life changed when Riley went missing “and really hasn’t been the same ever since. It was pretty shattered at that point and now starting to be a different kind of normal.”
She’s not sure what’s next but she and her friends will all respect the family’s wishes.
“But I think a few of my friends from college, who were all friends with Riley, would someday like to go back to Jefferson,” she said. “I’m not personally ready to do that yet, I’m not sure they are either, hopefully sometime. But it means a lot that they’ve found him. That’s really the most important thing.”
Now, she said, she tries to “see the positives in situations, to let loose a little bit.”
And she appreciates life a little bit more.
“Definitely making sure the last things you say to people are what you would want them to know, and hugging your friends and family members and telling them how much you appreciate them because you don’t know if it’s going to be the last time you talk to them.”