What is it we love about a good mystery? Most of our legendary stories without endings involve an unfinished last chapter of someone’s life, a missing body, or a found body with missing answers. Or, you know, a giant hairy half-man, half ape creature wandering the woods, or a gold-rich mine somewhere in the desert.
Without question the most famous of all outdoor mysteries, aka Sasquatch, aka The Yeti, aka the new mascot for Leave No Trace. Actually requires no explanation. Bizarrely makes an appearance in Slavomir Rawicz’ book The Long Walk, which is used as evidence by those who dispute Rawicz’ survival story.
2. Amelia Earhart
Seventy-five years after she disappeared, we’re still looking for Amelia Earhart’s plane, lost in the ocean somewhere near Howland Island, an uninhabited, remote island in the south Pacific where she tried to land during her circumnavigational flight attempt in 1937. Just two weeks ago, a $2.2 million search effort pulled the plug after finding nothing. Theories, including a crash landing on an island controlled by Japanese troops, the idea that she was spying on the Japanese, the possibility that she tried to turn back mid-flight, and a story that she survived, moved to New Jersey and changed her name.
3. Mallory and Irvine on Everest
In 2007, Conrad Anker struggled trying to free climb the Second Step on Everest’s Northeast Ridge – either proving that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine could have climbed the 5.9 pitch at 28,250 feet or proving that it was too difficult for the pioneering climbers (more likely the latter). Mallory’s body has been found high on Everest, along with a few artifacts that could support the theory that the two men summited in 1924 but died on the descent. Irvine’s body, which should have his camera strapped to it, has not been found — so speculation continues.
4. Everett Ruess
In 2009, remains of a body found in the southern Utah desert almost gave us an answer to what happened to Everett Ruess – who was something of the Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) of the Greatest Generation, an idealistic young adventurer who explored the Sierra and the desert, and disappeared. But McCandless’s body was found – Ruess’s was not. One theory has Ruess marrying a Navajo woman and settling somewhere in the desert, never making himself known. In his last letter to his brother in 1934, Ruess wrote: “I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time.”
5. Loch Ness Monster
Another mythical creature, a Scottish dragon-like (maybe?) lake-dwelling beast whose existence is supported by nothing but anecdotes. “Nessie” is the Bigfoot of the sea, or Bigfoot is the Nessie of the forest, whichever way you want to look at it.
6. The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, Superstition Mountains, Arizona
It’s possible you could insert any lost gold mine in this spot – but the Lost Dutchman is one of the most famous, and most scenic, located somewhere in the rugged Superstition Mountains in the desert southeast of Phoenix. In the late 1800s, the murky story (which has several versions) says that the “Dutchman,” German immigrant Jacob Waltz and/or another man named Jacob Weiser were given the location of a secret gold mine, which they never found and Waltz allegedly shared on his deathbed in 1891. The story, one of a dime-a-dozen “lost gold mine” stories in the American West, gained fame when Adolph Ruth died searching for the mine in 1931, his skull found with two bullet holes through it – and later his checkbook, with a note in which Ruth said he had discovered the mine.
7. Vanishing of Glen and Bessie Hyde in the Grand Canyon
Glen and Bessie Hyde were newlyweds hoping both to set a speed record for running the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon and make Bessie the first documented woman to run it. They disappeared sometime after November 1928, after they visited pioneering Grand Canyon photographer Emery Kolb’s studio on their hike out of the canyon to resupply. A month after they were last seen, they hadn’t returned to their Idaho home, and a search turned up their boat, adrift with their supplies still in it. Rumors, speculation, stories, investigations, books, and a novel followed. But no answers.
8. Donner Party cannibalism
Unlike the members of the 1972 Andes plane crash, who had no qualms about admitting that when things got desperate up in the mountains, they resorted to readily available human protein, the idea that the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism while stranded in 1846 and 1847 has always been disputed. In a published account in 1847, one member of the party explained in detail how he ate Jacob Donner, and also that he ate a baby, raw, but then of course denied it years later.
9. Why climbers once wore bright Lycra
Everyone makes regrettable fashion choices at some point in their life. In fact, the true definition of “fashion” might be looking back on photos of yourself 10 years later and saying “What the hell was I thinking wearing THAT?” But, Lycra. Tights. Nothing but a thin skin-tight layer of fabric between you and all those man parts at the crag. It defies all reasonable explanation and remains…a mystery