With the hunt for the British actor in the California mountains entering its sixth day, poignant photographs that he sent to his grandson show him looking relaxed and happy while climbing well above the clouds.
Mr Sands, who starred in more than 150 films and television series including A Room with a View, sent the pictures of himself climbing the Weisshorn mountain in the Swiss Alps to his grandson last September.
A family member told The Independent: “This is how he would love to be seen, doing what he loved best – a heroic mountaineer, and thrilled to send a picture of him looking so happy to share with his beloved grandson, Billy.”
And a friend described him as “a Byronesque romantic and an adventurer who is drawn to the extremes of nature, relishing the freedom of mountains”.
Mr Sands was scaling a section of the 14,783ft Weisshorn when the colourful pictures were taken.
The images, which Julian sent to Billy in September and have been given exclusively to The Independent, show the father of three using climbing gear including ropes, wearing a helmet and with a rucksack strapped tightly to his back.
In one photograph, he is holding a bottle of water and turning to smile at the camera while seated on a peak.
A keen and experienced hiker, the 65-year-old once described his happiest moment as “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning”.
The Weisshorn, a three-ridged pyramid-shaped mountain about 15 miles from the Matterhorn, is described by climbing experts as “more serious” than its famous neighbour.
“One of the most difficult 4,000m peaks, the Weisshorn is a long and serious climb by any route,” according to Alpine Guides.
His wife, the writer Evgenia Citkowitz, reported him missing last Friday while he was out on America’s San Gabriel mountains, and a close friend told The Independent that his family were frantic with worry.
A huge search operation was launched for Mr Sands, and on Friday crews found a car believed to belong to him, which they towed away.
Henry Sands, Julian’s son and Billy’s father, joined the search in the Californian mountains alongside an experienced hiker. The West Yorkshire-born actor, who lives in north Hollywood, played journalist Jon Swain in The Killing Fields, and is also known for starring in the Merchant Ivory romance A Room with a View.
A friend told The Independent: “Julian is wild and never contained by rules or boundaries. He is a Byronesque romantic and an adventurer who is drawn to the extremes of nature, relishing the freedom of mountains which he conquers all over the world.
“He is deeply inspired by the Romantic poets and his performances of their work are spellbinding and come from a passionate love of literature.
“He is a friend bound by Homeric qualities of loyalty and living life to the full.
“He takes no prisoners and yet is as gentle and generous and sensitive as the poets he so admired.
“His total and absolute adoration is always towards his wife the novelist and screenwriter Evgenia Citkowitz by whom he has two daughters.
“And his son Henry by his first wife the journalist Sarah Sands is closely bonded to him and joined the search for him in the Californian mountains where he went missing.
“His roles are often quirky and original as he moved away from the Merchant Ivory matinee idol roles in which he has cemented himself as one of the great British stars.”
When he disappeared, the actor was thought to have been somewhere on the popular Baldy Bowl Trail, which climbs 3,900ft over 4.5 miles to the highest summit in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Search and rescue crews to suspend the search over the weekend because of avalanche threat, a department spokesperson told said, with authorities continuing to use drones.
In recent years, several experienced hikers have died due to Mount Baldy’s icy terrain. It’s considered one of the most dangerous peaks to climb in the US.