Just before Kevin Rudnicki, 20, left for a Sunday morning hike on Mount Herman, his mother said, she reminded him about slain cyclist Tim Watkins.

Watkins, 60, was shot last September during a routine ride on that mountain.

“It was the last thing I said to (Rudnicki) before he left,” Melissa Reynolds said. “I said, ‘Make sure you have your pocketknife with you, because this is where Tim died a year ago. It’s not safe. Just be aware.’”

Rudnicki, a junior at the University of Wyoming who grew up in Palmer Lake, has not returned.

At least 80 people were searching Tuesday, said Brian Kinsey, incident commander, with 20 search and rescue volunteers and at least 60 community volunteers.

Darkness, dangerous terrain and cold weather forced searchers to stop Monday night, said Jacqueline Kirby, El Paso County sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Rudnicki was last seen about 8:45 a.m., when he ran into one of his former middle school teachers.

“Everything seemed to be fine,” Kinsey said. “They chatted for a few minutes and went on their ways, and that was it.”

He said Rudnicki was on Trail 715 in the Limbaugh Canyon area. “Up along that trail, there’s a little cut-over trail that goes over to Forest Service Road 322, and that was where they had met each other.”

The greatest challenge for searchers is the vast area with a widely varied terrain, Kinsey said. “There’s a whole lot of established trails as well as a whole bunch of kind of social trails and unmarked trails that go to all sorts of places. Trying to effectively cover all of those just takes a lot of time.”

Rudnicki is very familiar with the area, his mother said, having spent the past six or seven years hiking in Pike National Forest near Palmer Lake and making his own trail maps.

He is studying watershed management and wants to work for the U.S. Forest Service after graduation, Reynolds said.

“He wants the forest to be his office,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be in a building, in front of a computer. He wants to be out getting his hands dirty.”

Rudnicki was 4 when the family left Ann Arbor, Mich. He graduated from Palmer Ridge High School, where he ran track and cross-country.

“I’m pretty worn out,” said Reynolds, as the family has been searching too. “We’ve spent the whole day on the mountain, looking for him. We started at the point of where he was last seen. We headed west and were going toward his favorite spots, just trying to find any sign of him.

“But we’re still hopeful that someone’s going to see something, find something, and maybe he’s going to come home. I don’t know. We have to be hopeful.”

Rudnicki is about 5 feet, 9 inches tall with curly red or auburn hair, a poster says. He was wearing a green shirt, khaki cargo shorts, a Wyoming baseball cap and tan military boots.

A team was on board a Flight for Life helicopter Wednesday to assist with the search, El Paso County Search and Rescue said on Facebook. The team planned to search high and rough terrain areas that volunteers cannot usually reach on foot.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 719-390-5555.

Ellie is a general assignment reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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