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Tuesday, April 28, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bones Identified As Woman Hiker Missing For A Year -- Cause Of Death Remains Unclear

ISSAQUAH - Just a week shy of a year after she disappeared, the whereabouts of Donna Barensten are no longer a mystery.

How she died, though, is still unclear.

The King County medical examiner's office identified the 59-year-old Issaquah woman's remains late yesterday, the day after a lost hiker on the east side of Squak Mountain stumbled across some bones and a backpack.

An official at the medical examiner's office said the investigation to determine the cause of death is continuing.

Barensten's disappearance while on a Saturday hike with her husband, Ron Barensten, triggered a massive search May 4.

More than 100 volunteers, including mountain rescue teams, bloodhounds, German shepherds and a helicopter, scoured a large area on and near the mountain, but quit after four days.

A police official said yesterday that the search concentrated higher up the mountain and on the west side and did not include the area where the remains were found.

The hiker who discovered the remains Sunday told police he thought he was coming down the west side of the mountain, became lost and ended up on the east side.

Barensten's remains were at the foot of a 65-foot-high rock face. The area, about a quarter-mile from the Issaquah-Hobart Road near Southeast 113th street, is roughly within a mile of the area Barensten said he was hiking when his wife vanished.

Ron Barensten, a bioengineer at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said yesterday that he was relieved that the ordeal was over, but the discovery of his wife's bones "has brought back grief feelings."

Barensten told police last year that he and his wife were walking down a trail when he got slightly ahead of her for a few minutes. He stopped to wait, and thought he saw a "bobbing hat going the wrong way," but never saw his wife again.

Barensten, who kept up his own search after authorities quit looking, said yesterday that he had considered looking in the area where his wife's remains finally were found, but hadn't covered it yet.

"It was a triangle area I had in my mind," he said.

Because his wife suffered from dementia, Barensten held out hope early after her disappearance that she had simply become disoriented and hiked into Issaquah.

He gave up that theory after the first week, though, and said a few months later that he feared she may have fallen into a abandoned mine shaft.

Yesterday, though, he theorized that she may have followed an indistinct "hint of a trail" leading to a wooded area that slopes down to the area where her body was found.

Blaine Petty, who lives near where the remains were located, said lost hikers often come down the east side of the mountain and end up at the road near his home.

King County police, who will conduct an investigation into the death, said last year there was no sign of foul play in Barensten's disappearance.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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