As a Pinhead Institute instructor, Eells was a favorite among staff, students and parents. (Courtesy photo)

Local Patrick Eells, a beloved member of the Telluride community, died after an apparent fall while hiking alone in the Sneffels Highline area, officials announced Monday.

Eells, 29, told his girlfriend Sunday that he planned to hike and run the highline, and he was considering summiting Mt. Emma. When he didn’t return, he was reported missing at 11 p.m. Sunday night, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office.

By Monday morning, a search and rescue mission was underway, though by Monday afternoon, authorities announced it had become a recovery mission. People were asked to stay out of the Mill Creek Basin area below Gilpin Peak, as a group of a dozen deputies and search and rescue members, as well as air support, were there.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Eells who so clearly was in the prime of his life,” Sheriff Bill Masters said in a statement that announced Eells’ death.

In a separate statement, Masters thanked the deputies and San Miguel County Search and Rescue volunteers for their hard work; Mountain Blade Runner, Olathe Spray and Undersheriff Eric Berg for their aircraft resources and expertise; and Telluride Regional Airport officials for their hospitality.

“We are fortunate to have the expertise and resources available with our staff, volunteers and regional partners to safely and efficiently accomplish a very difficult and technical mission (Monday). We were all hoping for a better outcome, and again, our condolences to Mr. Eells’ family,” Masters said.

Eells, who was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, was an avid outdoorsman, including an experienced mountaineer. He also loved snowboarding, climbing, riding his bike and books. His passion for community service was evident in his work with local youth through the Telluride Academy and Pinhead, which made the news of his sudden passing that much more devastating.

“It is with the deepest sorrow that Pinhead announces the death of our wonderful friend and colleague Patrick Eells who was only 29 but had the wisdom of an elder. ... Please give us time to mourn our friend,” Pinhead posted on social media Monday.

Pinhead Executive Director Sarah Holbrooke spoke to the Daily Planet Tuesday and shared the story about the last time she had a chance to talk with Eells.

“I was driving out of town for the long weekend, I was on Main Street, and I saw Patrick walking across the sidewalk, so I pulled the car over to give him a hug,” she said of last week’s spontaneous talk with her friend. “He trimmed his beard, and he looked so handsome. He looked great, and so radiant and happy. I’m glad we had that hug and I didn’t just drive by and wave because you never know when you’re last opportunity to hug somebody is. Now that we can hug people again that’s a pretty great thing.”

When Eells came to Pinhead two summers ago, he had everything they were looking for, and then some, Holbrooke added.

“He just wanted to make a difference in the best way. Nice is the word that everyone uses about Patrick. He was nice in just all the right ways. He was lovely with the children. He was lovely with the parents. He was lovely as an engineer who could execute someone’s art project and make it stand out. He was just so lovely to be around,” she said.

Last summer, when Pinhead had to significantly reduce its offerings, Eells focused on making and distributing personal protective equipment throughout the region, including the Navajo and Southern Ute reservations, using his “funky,” as Holbrooke called it, retro van.

“He jumped to public service when the pandemic started. He was just a really, really great collaborator,” she said. “We’re devastated and gutted. I can’t stop crying. … You’d have to have nerves of steel and ice water in your veins not to be deeply, deeply saddened by this news. He was just a guy who was really, really comfortable in a STEM lab and really, really comfortable on a crack climb. It was fun hearing the love he had for getting outdoors.”

Pinhead also shared photos of Eells teaching. Most recently, he led a group of high school-aged “Pinterns” in creating some pieces for the Telluride Historic Museum’s latest exhibit, “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World,” that required 3D printers and laser cutters.

“We're really excited with how they turned out,” he previously told the Daily Planet.

Pinhead has created a Patrick Eells Engineering Scholarship that will be awarded to a Telluride High School senior who plans to major in the field, Holbrooke shared.

Jessica Tenenbaum, Pinhead’s special projects lead, said parents have been reaching out all week to share their condolences and heartbreak.

“I’ve had parents approach me recently to ask which camps Patrick was teaching this summer because their kids love him so much as an instructor they wanted to make sure that he was going to be the person they would spend their summer with,” she added.

One such parent, Luca Melissa Ramponi, posted on Pinhead’s Facebook:

“Oh, heartbreaking. Sami adored Patrick. P was his ski coach and just took him and others around town for a STEM activity. Thank you Patrick for being such a kind, and positive example to my son and our community’s youth. This is truly heartbreaking. Deepest sympathies to his family and everyone who loves him,” she wrote.

Similarly, friends took to social media in remembering him.

“Glad I was able to get to know you and live with you my second winter in Telluride," Taylor Johnson wrote on Facebook. “Although you're gone MUCH too soon, I'm happier knowing you spent your last moments doing something you loved! You will be missed greatly!”

Eells is survived by his brother Andrew, sister Melisa, and parents Walter and Renee. Crippin Funeral Home in Montrose will be handling services.