Missing North Bay college student never returned from Pacific Northwest hike

A North Bay college student who set off on a hike in the Pacific Northwest hasn't been seen for a week, and the search is intensifying.

21-year-old Riley Zickel attends Lewis and Clark College. Last Wednesday he headed into the Mount Jefferson Wilderness Area southeast of Portland and was supposed to return Thursday. When he failed to show up for plans he'd made on Saturday, his parents became alarmed.

"He doesn't know this area, but he's a very experienced backpacker," father Robin Zickel told reporters at the search site on Tuesday.

"He spends all his money at REI, so he has good gear, he's a sensible kid, and besides music, this is his favorite thing to do," explained Zickel.

The effort involves dozens of searchers, on foot, and horseback, and by air, scouring the vast back country.

In Sebastopol, where Riley grew up, friends are worried.

"The music community around here is pretty tight," Bill DeCarli, General Manager of Hopmonk Tavern, told KTVU. DeCarli has played music with Robin Zickel for years, and watched Riley grow up.

"I remember Riley coming in, sitting behind his dad's drums, just a little boy," he smiled, " so it does hit you pretty deep, because there's that history."

Riley is an accomplished bass player, and graduated from Analy High School in 2013, a standout in the student orchestra.  

"He's always been adventurous, always loved backpacking," remembered classmate Rachael Erickson," who has known Riley since freshman year.

"He was always a sweetheart. In band he was enthusiastic about anything he played and good in all his classes" Erickson recalled.

"He was a really responsible kid, so it's crazy to think out of everyone, he'd be missing."

Tuesday evening, the Marion County Sheriff's Department reported the search ending for the day with no new clues.

"We have no intention of stopping at this point, " Lt. Chris Baldridge told KTVU by phone. "I'm not ready to go there yet. We're still optimistic and we're hoping we find him soon," observed Baldridge.

The search is shifting north toward an area known as Park Butte. Search and rescue volunteers are also stationed along the Pacific Coast Trail, in case other hikers have spotted Riley along their way.

"We are literally intercepting hikers as they come off that trail at almost every point possible and talking with them so the word is out," said Baldridge.

Riley had packed enough food for four days, but hikers often leave food along the popular trial, which could extend his supplies.

"My thought is that he really is just lost, can't find his way in the trees," friend Jim Corbett told KTVU.

Corbett, a musician who has known the family for 40 years, says many in the community are hanging on for news from Portland.    

"If he's not hurt, he's gonna be walking out of there, hopefully sooner than later," mused Corbett, " and we're all praying, for the big whoop-de-doo when he does show up and they find him."

A photo snapped by another hiker a few days ago, shows a slim man next to a tent, which may be Riley, but the Sheriff's Department says it's too blurry to be certain.

If Riley Zickel does emerge from his hike, unaware of the fuss, the Sheriff's Department says that would be just fine.

"It would be the best news we could get," declared Lt. Baldridge, "that he comes walking out to his car and says 'Hey guys, what's wrong'"?