Man Who Died Hiking Wyoming’s Backcountry Remembered As A Free Spirit

A Minnesota man who was the focus of a backcountry search last week until his body was found in the Wind River Mountains was a free spirit who loved solo traveling, his family said.

Andrew Rossi

August 28, 20233 min read

John Diepholz, 64, didn't return as scheduled Aug. 16 from a hiking trip in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.
John Diepholz, 64, didn't return as scheduled Aug. 16 from a hiking trip in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. (Courtesy Photos)

A Minnesota hiker who died after a fall in the Wind River Mountains is being remembered as a free spirit who found fulfillment in every aspect of his life.

The body of John Diepholz, 64, was found in the Spider Lake area of the Wind River Mountains on Thursday. The Minnesota man was on a solo hike and died of injuries "consistent with a fall," according to the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office.

Diepholz’s family reported him missing earlier that week, prompting a four-day search until he was found. His brother-in-law, Dennis Fernkes, said the family is sad, but also can have some closure now that Diepholz has been recovered and his fate is known.

“John was an intelligent, single, free-spirited man,” he told Cowboy State Daily.

One of four siblings, Diepholz grew up in Richfield, Minnesota. At the time of his death, he worked part-time delivering pizza and as a substitute teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools.

“In his free time, he was completely rehabbing his house in Minneapolis,” Fernkes said.

He Loved To Travel Solo

But his true passion was for traveling. Diepholz had spent a decade as a solo traveler, domestically and overseas.

In August 2011, he embarked on a yearlong sojourn down the Mississippi River and through Latin America. Later trips took him to Greece, Thailand, Italy and England.

Diepholz’s last major excursion was a monthlong trip to Guatemala. He chronicled this and his other international trips in his blog, Johnadrift.

“With the familiar comforts of its look and feel, in all its variety, and with my tiny but prized toehold in the language, it grew to be my home away from home,” Diepholz said in his first post about the trip.

Diepholz wrote an entry from every stop along his trip, including the name and cost of each hotel he stayed at as a reference for others planning similar trips. His final entry was April 6, written during his last night in Guatemala.

“This country is pretty cool, and I leave for the third time with a sense of vicarious patriotism.  I’m up for a grueling night in Atlanta’s airport and arrival back in Podunk Good Friday morning.  Hasta Luego, Guatemala,” he wrote.

When Diepholz wasn’t traveling internationally, he made short hiking trips across the United States. His hike down the Elkhart Trailhead in the Wind River Mountains would be just another excursion.

“His loss is so devastating to the family,” Ferkes said. “At least, we now have closure.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at

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Andrew Rossi

Features Reporter

Andrew Rossi is a features reporter for Cowboy State Daily based in northwest Wyoming. He covers everything from horrible weather and giant pumpkins to dinosaurs, astronomy, and the eccentricities of Yellowstone National Park.