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Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Use this forum to stay informed on missing persons alerts, active SAR's and unfortunate hiker accidents we can all hopefully learn from. Any information you may have on a missing person, including first hand weather related information or any other insight (however little) may prove to be critical information to Law Enforcement / SAR in locating the person in question.
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Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby gdurkee » Fri Jul 22, 2016 10:19 pm

Hi All:

I'm working on the search for John Lee (see Inyo Sheriff Facebook Post: https://www.facebook.com/InyoCountySheriffsOffice/ ). He and a party of five left Monday and went up the North Fork of Lone Pine Creek intending to get to Whitney summit. They had only day gear (that's the information I have now) and weren't terribly experienced. They apparently reached Whitney/Russell Col late in the afternoon, got down to Arctic Lake area, then returned and bivvied at the Col. At about an hour after sunrise, John Lee (68) headed for the summit up the north slope. He left his pack part way up. That was the last clue of his location. This was Tuesday morning. A major active search has been going since Thursday. There is some speculation by Sequoia SAR that he descended the West slope. Some anomalous and recent tracks were in one of the gullies coming down towards the straightaway just before the switchbacks start. It does not appear he signed the summit register.

If you or anyone you know was on the summit Tuesday or hiking on the west side of Whitney (Guitar/Hitchcock/switchbacks) Tuesday to present, please contact Sequoia Kings SAR. Even if you didn't see the individual, getting your location, route and times will help eliminate terrain and give a timeline. Call SAR at 559-565-3117 and ask to speak to me or one of the investigators. You can also reply to me here or PM. Also useful would be anyone who did the Mountaineer's Route on Tuesday, though that doesn't appear to be the route he took.

Check the description on the Inyo Facebook Page and, if you're in the area, especially XC on the routes listed, keep an eye out for equipment or other clues. Mark any clues, photograph and record coordinates, if possible.

Many thanks!
George Durkee
NPS SAR



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Re: Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby maverick » Sat Jul 23, 2016 10:40 am

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Update

Postby maverick » Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:28 pm

SEKI NPS:
UPDATE--
The body of missing hiker John Lee, a 68-year-old male from Mentone, CA, was spotted by helicopter in Sequoia National Park at the base of the southwest slope of Mt. Whitney (approximately 12,500 feet in elevation) on Sunday, July 24, 2016, at approximately 1:35 p.m. Thank you to all who commented on this post with positive wishes for the family and for the safety of those involved in rescue and recovery operations.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Jul 27, 2016 9:26 pm

Yes, this has been a sad saga. My condolences for the family and friends of the deceased. I was truly holding out hope that rescuers would find him alive with an injury on some part of the upper MR.

The opening announcement and update were rather confusing as they seemed slightly contradictory, yet the early SAR theory of the fellow descending the SW slope which really didn't seem to match the other clues, turned out to be correct.

One thing that appears common to all accounts is that no one in the group seemed to have much navigational skill as well as preparation (day trip gear only). Whereas the MR is a popular route it is still an off trail route and missing the route can lead you beyond class 3 and into trouble as was clearly the case here. Folks doing off trail hiking really need to have at least one person in their party with navigational (this means map reading) skill. This has been a refrain on most of these SAR stories, whether they have happy endings or not.

The initial reports of the group going over the Russell-Whitney col (possibly to the vicinity of Arctic L. as per the earliest report), then back to the col to bivouac, in the course of trying to find the MR, point to serious navigational problems, as does the sad conclusion. The tragic climax seems really paradoxical though. How does one get from north of the MR chute where the rucksack was found to the base of the SW slope, where the body was found? To do so means pretty much getting up to the summit plateau if not the summit itself. Why upon reaching the plateau would one descend the SW slope? When I heard "north of the MR" (chute) for the rucksack I figured there might have been a fall on the class 4ish stuff N of the MR (chute). Baffling, but explained by simply bizarre navigation. It is so sad. One has a spirited 68-year-old leading this group. Yet for all the spirit and physical conditioning, having someone in the group who could read a topo map would have been a real life saver.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby franklin411 » Thu Jul 28, 2016 4:12 pm

A new report is up, with more detail. A lot of big mistakes were made.

The search began with a report that a group of hikers had left Whitney Portal early Monday, July 18th, intending to day-hike the mountain via the North Fork/Mountaineers Route. The story takes them up the trail to Upper Boy Scout Lake, where they left the normal ascent route and continued above the lake towards Mt Russell and the headwall of that drainage. They worked up a steep, 4th-class section to gain the Whitney-Russell ridgeline, then descended to the uppermost Arctic Lake for a rest. Later, they returned to the ridgeline and huddled together for the night. In the morning, the subject left the group, perhaps to go look for a safer way down. The group watched him go up the North Face of Whitney, where they saw him remove his pack and leave it. Many hours later, they decided to descend without the other hiker, but were assisted by a couple of others who knew the area and could help lead them down the right path.

Search teams on the ground found the pack where the group had generally suggested it would be, about half way up the north face. (Note: the coordinates and pictures posted labeling where the pack was found were a little wrong. The coordinates taken from the GPS may have been distorted from proximity to,and steepness of, the north face. After consulting with team members in the field, the pack was located downhill and climber's right of the posted location, just west of the central rib of the North Face.) There was no sign that the subject reached the true summit, as no other hikers reported seeing him, and he did not sign the register. Later, on the upper southwest slope, ground searchers found a rope tied to a rock in some 2nd class terrain, and laid out across the rocks in a line. Searchers believe this rope belonged to the missing hiker.

https://inyosar.com/multi-agency-search ... t-whitney/

And a picture from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office Facebook page showing where the pack was discovered. Utterly amazing to me that he got himself where he did, and that he continued beyond this point.
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Re: Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby giantbrookie » Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:51 pm

franklin411 wrote:A new report is up, with more detail. A lot of big mistakes were made.
And a picture from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office Facebook page showing where the pack was discovered. Utterly amazing to me that he got himself where he did, and that he continued beyond this point.


I agree that this update makes the whole thing even more baffling, and it certainly amplifies the navigation and location issues the group had.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Missing Person: Mt. Whitney Area

Postby franklin411 » Fri Aug 19, 2016 3:53 pm

Morbid curiosity got me:

The Tulare County Coroner’s Office determined that the cause of Lee’s death was blunt force trauma, which is consistent with a fall.


http://www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/news/ ... -dies-fall
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