The wildernesses of our world often seem to draw people in to never return, as if they are hungry entities rather than just collections of mountains and trees. Some of the strangest such cases have been written of by missing persons researcher and author on the subject, David Paulides, in his Missing 411 series of books, and these accounts can range from the slightly odd to the full on bizarre. One very weird case that has been much discussed and speculated upon is that of a seasoned, experienced hunter who went out with a group of friends only to step off the face of the earth and leave strange clues and mysteries that have not been solved to this day.
The setting for this strange case is the rather ominously named the Crazy Mountains, in the northern part of the Rocky Mountains of Montana, in the United States, where in September of 2014 a 38-year-old elk hunter by the name of Aaron Joseph Hedges was out on a hunting trip with friends Greg Leitner and Joe Depew. The trip started on September 3, when the group headed out from the Cottonwood Lake Trailhead along with two horses and a mule. The men were in good spirits, looking forward to their excursion, and things were going smoothly as they headed towards a place called Campfire Lake, but they hit an obstacle when their mule got spooked and Hedges’ sleeping bag was thrown over off the trail and lost.
It was an unfortunate turn of events, but fortunately the group kept another hunting camp they had used the previous year and had loaded up with an emergency cache of extra supplies just in case they ever needed it. Among these supplies were extra sleeping bags, and so on September 5 Aaron decided to make a trek up that way, towards a place called Sunlight Lake. It wasn’t a particularly formidable distance for the experienced outdoorsman, and he had a walkie talkie, cellphone, and was armed with a firearm and bow, so no one thought much of it, especially since he told his companions that he was just going to grab the supplies and would be back before nightfall. Little did they know that as he stalked off up that trail into the trees it would be the last time anyone saw him alive.
Night came and went with no sign of Hedges, and the next day he still did not turn up. The group tried numerous times to call him on his walkie talkie, but there was no response. A look at the GPS for the walkie talkie system showed that Hedges had missed the fork in the trail that he was supposed to take to his destination, and it labelled his position as being out at the very edge of the screen. They waited around the area for several more days, hoping that he would find his way back to them but there was no further word, and Aaron Hedges was finally reported missing on September 8. A search was mounted, and although the effort was somewhat impeded by snow that had hit the area, the surroundings were meticulously scoured using helicopters with infrared equipment, horses, and 20 tracker dog teams, all of which turned up no sign at all of the missing hunter.
It was not until the second day of the search that a clue was finally found. By a creek just east of Sunlight lake was found a spot where someone had attempted to start a fire using a pack of cigarettes, and nearby were found the water bladder that Hedges had been carrying, the waist straps of his backpack, and his shoes sat down neatly side by side as if they had been carefully removed and placed there. Oddly, the site was found in an area the search teams had just combed the previous day without finding a thing, and it was also considered puzzling that he would have taken his shoes off and just left them behind considering the plummeting temperatures and snow. Also unusual was that tracker dogs passing through were unable to pick up a scent trail for the missing man, which was a bit hard to explain. This was the only trace of Hedges that would be found during the search efforts, and it was as if he had just vanished into thin air, but things would get even weirder still a full 9 months after the disappearance.
In June 0f 2015, a hiker by the name of Roger Beslanowitch was staying with relatives at a place called the Rein Anchor Ranch, when he took a walk to the top of a nearby ridge and came across someone’s outdoor gear, including a backpack containing a cellphone, an orange hunting vest, bow, clothes, a hunting license, and some scattered wrappers from granola bars. Bizarrely, at the head of the ridge was also a thermos cup placed upon a rock along with an open energy drink nearby. Beslanowitch would report that he had been sure there had to be a body somewhere, but he could find none, just those belongings eerily piled up against a tree. When it was found through the hunting and driver’s licenses in the pack that they had belonged to Aaron Hedges, the authorities jumped all over this new lead in their cold case, but they could find no trace of any human remains.
It would not be until the following summer that remains would finally be discovered about half a mile from where the gear had been found, which was a full 15 miles from where he had last been seen and 6 miles from where his boots had been found, meaning he had somehow traversed that snow swept wilderness without his boots all of that way, along a route that had no major trails. Making it even weirder was that the area the remains were found in was within eyesight of the nearby ranch and right next to a frequently used road, which would have meant safety, but he had never managed to reach it. How could this be? He had obviously stopped to have something to drink on that ridge, from which he would have been able to clearly see the house, so why did he just stop, strip down out of his clothes, and die so close to safety?
The whole case is permeated by strange details. The fork in the trail that Hedges was originally meant to take up to his destination was clearly delineated and visible, and he was equipped with a GPS system, yet he had gone right by it. He had then managed to set up a camp that evaded a complete search of the same area, then taken his boots off in freezing weather and somehow managed to walk 6 miles over rough terrain off-trail through snow, which authorities see as highly unlikely as it would have been an incredible feat for even the most hardened survivalist. Indeed, why had he taken his shoes off to begin with? Then there is the fact that dogs could not pick up his scent, and all of this is punctuated by the rest of his belongings and his body plopped out there practically right on top of an inhabited ranch. The cause of death could also not be determined, as neither the skull nor any of the bones exhibited any sort of trauma indicating an injury of any kind. What is going on here?
There have certainly been plenty of theories ranging from the plausible to the far out. The official explanation is that he had probably had hypothermia and disorientation, which had caused him to wander about aimlessly and display his odd behavior. He may have even intentionally avoided search party teams and that ranch in order to cover the fact that he and his friends may have been hunting in off-limits areas and poaching. Other theories are decidedly more fringe, including the pervasive idea that he somehow passed into another dimension or through a portal. One Reddit user on the Missing 411 forum called “DapperWinner” explains his spin on the theory and how it matches many of the stranger details as follows:
The turn in the path: Aaron left his hunting buddies to go to a cache that was a hike away, there was a visible path and clear turn for him to ascend up and get to the cache. What I believe happened is somewhere just before that turn or on it he 'passed' over into another dimensional reality. It was getting late and his friends tried to call him over the walkie talkie and they did ping his GPS. Now at this point, somehow I think for a split minute or so he flickered back into this reality in just enough time for the GPS to go off and then flickered back out. I'm no expert on this stuff so forgive the terms.
The boots: The SAR has been called and they comb the area for him, dogs also cannot get a scent. Now with the dogs i believe the reason why they cannot find one is because he literally is not there, he is in some other dimensional reality overlapping our own. Further in the case they find his boots and other items AFTER they combed a particular area bythe ridgeline. Similar things have happened in other cases, so we came up with a theory that what if his items have somehow re-materialzed back into our reality? Let’s say that in the dimension he is in, whatever bad weather is happening in ours (The snow) Is not happening where he is. So perhaps he has a rest and takes his boots off to rest his feet, somehow those items reappear back in our reality and he loses them. This would explain why his boots were found just set there as if someone had placed them. Because they were.
The pack: Months pass and the somebody finds Aaron hedges backpack and drinking equipment overlooking a property with human houses and structures visible. Let’s say Aaron did make his way to this place and I think he knew where he was going expecting to find those peoples properties. But here’s the thing: They weren't physically there in that other reality! He made his way to that ridgeline expecting to find houses but did not. And again, his items have somehow re-materialized back into this reality where they were found by a neighbor. Now this is where the speculation gets a little crazy: We theorized that what if the alternate reality he stumbled in, time flows differently. As they found his pack a year or so later I believe? What if wherever he is, it’s only felt like a day or two for him being lost, but in our reality a year had passed? As I said it’s just speculation on our part, but i find it hard to believe a backpack containing food was sitting there perfectly for a year for someone to discover without it being ravaged wildlife.
What happened to Aaron Hedges? Did he simply get lost and succumb to the stresses of the environment? Is this, as the authorities say, a case of hypothermia induced psychosis? If so, then what are we to make of all of the weird clues orbiting the whole thing? Or is this, as some of the stranger theories have posited, something altogether more bizarre and past out ability to really grasp? Just about the only thing we really do know about this weird case is that Aaron Hedges disappeared without explanation, his remains reappeared just as mysteriously, and no one truly knows what exactly happened to him except for him and the trees.