‘Epically heroic and tragic’: how a family treasure hunt ended with a son lost at sea | California

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Hunter Lewis left his father’s home on the northern California coast last week with a plan. The adventurous 21-year-old student had spent years creating an elaborate scavenger hunt for friends and family. Now was the time to hide the final price.

On December 30, Lewis reportedly launched a 15-foot green canoe into the freezing waters of the Pacific to hide the treasure that would complete the trip.

He never returned home.

Lewis’s adventure had lasted for years. A seasoned outdoor enthusiast who was certified in diving and had a second degree black belt in taekwondo, Lewis had always been fearless, said his father, Corey Lewis. The boy grew up outside, strapped to his father’s back when he was one year old while the elder Lewis snowshoeed in the Sierra Nevada.

The Lewisons loved movies featuring lost treasures, such as National Treasure and the Goonies. And, during the pandemic, while studying aerospace engineering and earning his pilot’s license, Lewis devised his own epic treasure hunt: the search for ‘Lewis’s lost treasure’.

Hunter Lewis spent years designing an elaborate scavenger hunt for his family and friends before he vanished. Photography: Courtesy of Corey Lewis

Every time he returned home to visit California State University at Long Beach, he drew maps and created puzzles.

The days before his disappearance had been joyous. Lewis spent the holidays with his family, and then the scavenger hunt began.

The research took participants throughout Humboldt County, rappelling a cliff, scaling a railroad bridge, and hiking secret trails. Dozens of people took part in the adventure, which featured elaborate clues, involving code and, in one case, braille.

“I’ve seen more beaches, coastlines and secret trails in the past few days than in the past decade,” Corey Lewis said of the hunt. “He just wanted to give us all an adventure and an experience. He wanted everyone to experience these adventures.

Lewis wanted everyone to join in. He spent three hours teaching a friend who was afraid of heights how to abseil, so he could search for the treasure, Corey Lewis said.

“We would stay up late at night bending over maps and puzzles to try to solve codes. We got up early in the morning. We were partying when we saw photos and videos of someone finding a clue. It was wonderful, ”said Corey Lewis. “He would show up and hang out with you for an hour or two while you searched, then celebrate with you when you found him.”

On the last Thursday in December Lewis set off to prepare the last part of the quest. He launched his canoe on the beach in the state of Trinidad. When he did not return home, the US Coast Guard began a night search.

Over the past few days, pieces of the canoe and other items Lewis had with him that day began to wash up on the shore. Lewis’s family and friends have refocused their search, no longer looking for hidden treasure, but for the body of their loved one. Joined by hundreds of others, they roamed the local beaches and caves on foot and on horseback and on boats, ATVs and planes.

Lewis’s family believe he never got out of the water.

“We know this is not a rescue operation. It’s a recovery of Lewis’s lost treasure: the body of my son Hunter, ”said his father, Corey Lewis.

The Coast Guard suspended their search last week after covering 1,000 nautical miles, citing harsh conditions and exhaustive efforts.

“It’s always difficult to stop a search when you have no answer as to what happened. In this case, without further information and given the conditions, we have exhausted our reasonable search options. We can only hope that more information will be found in the future that will reveal what happened to this young man, ”said Captain Mark Hiigel, Humboldt Bay area commander, in a statement.

A black and white portrait of a young man wearing a hiking backpack in a wooded area while looking out to sea. An island can be seen in the background.
Hunter Lewis was an experienced outdoor enthusiast who was certified in diving and had a second degree black belt in taekwondo. Photography: Courtesy of Corey Lewis

Thanks to the treasure hunt he designed for them, those close to Lewis believe they know what happened. Corey Lewis and his son’s fiancée, Kinsley Rolph, solved the latest treasure hunt clue on Saturday with a heart-shaped key Lewis had created on his 3D printer. The key’s grooves match the pattern of marine stacks off the beach where Lewis was last seen, and the heart points to Flatiron Rock, a small island just offshore.

Corey Lewis suspects his son, unaware of the existence of a dangerous reef hidden along one side of the island, of having capsized while approaching Flatiron Rock. The volunteers recovered pieces of a large bucket, which Lewis used to hide the treasure, from the shore, as well as a small wooden cigar box. Lewis had had the box since he was a child when his father organized a scavenger hunt for him and his younger brother.

“It’s both epic and tragic,” said Corey Lewis. “Here we are involved in this epic treasure hunt, which began with a letter that says ‘you are the heirs to Lewis’ lost treasure. Part of the Lewis family sank at sea years ago and this treasure is hidden, but you can find it ”. This is tragically what happened. We’re looking for Lewis’s lost treasure, and it’s him.

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