ST. PAUL, Minn. - Nick Masciopinto loved adventure.
That's why he set out from the St. Paul suburb of Vadnais Heights for the wilderness of Alaska this simmer, and why he set out Monday on a solo hike on Thunder Mountain.
The 20-year-old Eagle Scout and graduate of St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights ventured out in the afternoon and planned to return by 6 p.m. to a cousin's home in Juneau. He phoned his family at 7 p.m., saying he'd be late. He called again about an hour later to report that he'd lost the trail but could see rooftops and was heading down the mountain.
Masciopinto never made it. He plunged down a cliff to his death.
A relative and a former teacher said Masciopinto loved the outdoors and tested himself through alpine skiing, wakeboarding and other heart-pumping sports.
"He liked all those kinds of early-20s adventures, the things that make a mother's heart skip a beat," his aunt, Mary Flanagan, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday.
Thunder Mountain, considered strenuous and perilous in spots, leads through meadows and forests, providing spectacular views of the Mendenhall Valley and a glacier.
Masciopinto's brother Joe, 15, told the newspaper he looked up to his older sibling, who was nicknamed "Pinto" by his classmates at St. Thomas, where he earned good grades and joined the school's honor guard.
"He was always pretty happy and outgoing," Joe Masciopinto said. "I wanted to be more like that."
Bill Culbertson, who teaches Spanish at St. Thomas, said Nick Masciopinto "had all the potential in the world to be anything he wanted."
But Masciopinto wasn't sure what his future held, Flanagan told the Pioneer Press. He took classes at Century College and the University of St. Thomas but hadn't settled on a major.
"He was really searching for what he wanted to do," she said. "I think that's part of the reason he was in Alaska."
Chris Eakins, a lifelong friend, recalled a summer outing on a lake when they were 14.
"Nick took us out on this sailboat and was trying to give us a good ride, so he let the wind get pretty good," Eakins said. The boat ended up turning over and the two boys waited, laughing, for their parents to rescue them.
"He just always wanted to show people a good time," he told the newspaper. "He made everyone around him that much more happy."