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Body of missing ‘experienced’ hiker found at base of California waterfall

Body of missing ‘experienced’ hiker found at base of California waterfall

A four-day search has come to an end for an “experienced and avid” hiker in California after her body was discovered over a steep drop-off at the base of a waterfall.

The body of 30-year-old Caroline Meister was discovered by search and rescue personnel on Friday, after she went missing on 18 March after she left on a hike and never returned, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office announced on Friday.

Along with several search and rescue teams and assistance from other counties, a drone team, a K9 unit and a heat-sensing aircraft, all helped in the search for the missing woman in the Ventana Wilderness.

Search and rescue teams were carrying out a “high angle search” off the “Cut Off” trail, where a waterfall drops off of the trail, when they discovered Meister’s body on Friday.

The rescuers rappelled down the steep drop-off at around 10.45am, where they found Meister’s body at the base of the waterfall.

Meister worked and lived at the Tassajara Zen Center, which she left to embark on a solo day hike on 18 March (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office)
Meister worked and lived at the Tassajara Zen Center, which she left to embark on a solo day hike on 18 March (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office)

The sheriff’s office said that her injuries were consistent with falling down a cliff, and there were no signs of foul play.

The search for Meister began after the sheriff’s office received a report on 18 March that Meister did not return from a hike.

She left the Zen Center, where she has worked and lived for over a year and a half, at Tassajara in the Ventana Wilderness at 10am that day to embark on a day hike.

Meister went prepared with food for the day and the clothing she was wearing but did not carry items for an overnight hike.

She planned to hike a trail that loops back around to the Zen Center, according to the sheriff’s office.

She also mentioned hiking the Windcave Trail, which is not an official trail but likely refers to an area known to the hiking community, Andy Rosas, a spokesperson from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office told SFGATE.

Meister’s body was found at the bottom of a Waterfall near the ‘Cut Off’ trail by search and rescue (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office)
Meister’s body was found at the bottom of a Waterfall near the ‘Cut Off’ trail by search and rescue (Monterey County Sheriff’s Office)

When she did not return, concerned staff and friends at the Zen Center began a search for the hiker and then contacted the sheriff’s office.

The search for Meister continued for four days across a wide area until the discovery of her body on Friday.

Before Meister’s discovery, her parents spoke with KSBW and said their daughter was an “avid hiker” and was very familiar with the area as she had been working at the centre in the Los Padres National Forest for a while.

After news of Meister’s death, her parents expressed their gratitude to all those who searched for their daughter.

Heather Iarusso, director of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, where Meister resided, told CBS that hiking in the nearby trails alone was not uncommon.

“Many of us have lived here for a while, and we’re familiar with these trials. She was not out there doing anything risky," Ms Ianrusso said.

"She’s just a lovely human being, and we all – we already miss her deeply. She was an amazingly sweet, bright spirit, very gentle and kind and helpful,” she added.