Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Thu May 10, 2012 2:18 pm

OtherHand wrote:Jim: Good theorizing. I note that none of your alternative are absolutely impossible, just varying shades of unlikely. I think that's where things are, all the likely places have been checked, and it will turn out to be a low probability spot. Or someplace so off the wall no one has even yet thought of it.
I guess "varying shades of unlikely" is the stock-in-trade of a cold case SAR effort. :roll:

OtherHand wrote:I was out in JT yesterday, noodling around Stubbe Spring loop. New write up on the site at:
http://www.otherhand.org/home-page/sear ... 6-5092012/
Good write up. The current search track in the context of the orginal search tracks is very helpful as is the pano shot.

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Thu May 10, 2012 5:55 pm

OtherHand wrote:Or someplace so off the wall no one has even yet thought of it.
Very well then, having abandoned the realm of reason, I give you HJ's wild @$$ theory #1:

Bill gets injured somewhere on the SE face of Quail (circa point "A"). He never summits. He holes up for a while, waiting for help. He gets to thinking. "Dang it, I told Mary that I'd be at Carey's Castle. I just pulled an 'Aron Ralston.' No one knows I'm here. I'm on my own. I need help."

Bill pulls out one of those maps that he tends to collect. He spies "Lost Horse Ranger Station" and thinks to himself "I'll be OK if I can just make it to the station." This is the kind of fixation that Lawrence Gonzales describes in his "Deep Survival" book, part rational, part irrational.

Bill cuts across the east face, staying below the visibility of the Serin Drive cell tower. He cuts across Johnny Lang Canyon heading for a saddle which will lead him to the ranger station. He cell phone died long ago, but somewhere in here, in spot where there is coverage, he tries turning on his phone. It quickly dies, but one ping gets out. For reasons unknown, the ping registers as being 10.6 mi from the tower when in reality it's more.

Unfortunately, Bill is unable to continue and meets his end somewhere west of the Lost Horse Ranger Station.

Pretty wild idea, eh? :?

There are a few tracks in those hills west of the station, but not a lot.

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Postby OtherHand » Thu May 10, 2012 7:07 pm

Jim, I hate to be such a stick in the desert mud, 'cause you certainly are thinking, but a couple points.

Cell coverage is the big problem with Bill getting hurt anywhere on the upper slopes of Quail Mt. The Serin tower isn't the only one around. Have a look at the following. I took Verizon's coverage map and overlaid it onto Google Earth. It's not perfect, but it's close. Note the excellent coverage on upper Quail on the SE slopes. It tends to jive with my non-scientific tests with my own phone.

http://www.otherhand.org/Stuff/ne_quail_cell.jpg

Early on, I was working on the theory that Bill had gone to the Lang Mine area (also on his itinerary) instead of Quail, got injured and attempted a self-rescue to the Lost Horse station less than 2 miles away. Looks like a great idea on a map and much shorter than a return to his vehicle. So I did JT6.

Oh yeah, no big deal, so I did it solo. OMG. That was a place I should NOT have been by my lonesome. The climb up was sort of lousy, lots of big rocks, but the descent in the canyon to the SE was awful. I wanted to kiss the ground when I got down. I now realize I grouped that trip in with the others in the initial bunch of trip reports, and I probably shouldn't have. It deserved a SPECIAL mention. What I have done is gone back in and included some pictures of the trip in the report

We eventually went back through that area one last time in JT8. I let the crazies go the nasty route and I took the (slightly) saner one. They had fun as they were all serious rock climbers. I like the ground.

I think the idea of self-rescue to Lost Horse was an excellent idea, and JT6 was one of the trips I had the sense I could come upon Bill at any moment. It felt very right. But the topography absolutely channels anyone into the canyon bottom, and those have been gone over pretty well. I can't tell you how many holes I stopped at and peered down. There is really only one obvious route east and two other less obvious routes, so that's why there isn't a lot of tracks.

But if someone wants a rocky challenge, just head west from Lost Horse!
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri May 11, 2012 4:45 am

Oh, all right. It was just a thought. It seemed pretty improbable anyway.

It sure would be nice to have more info from the cell guys. It must be that Bill's Sunday morning ping is the only ping detected from the time he was reported missing. There must have been pings all over the place on Thursday morning of Bill's hike. Clearly he had cell coverage because we know he called Mary. The other issue is that after a day out in the backcountry, particularly if his cell wasn't 100% charged in the first place (which it wasn't since he was making calls), his cell may have either shut off or he may have turned it off. Cell coverage maps are useful (HIGHLY!), but again his phone may not have been on.

We don't know when his phone may have been off, but we do know that it was on however briefly around 0650 Sunday morning and that it was in range of the Serin Drive cell tower.

Based on your JTxx searches, it looks like you've already considered the idea that 10.6 miles may not be fully accurate. It looks like you've already checked areas where there might be Serin Drive tower coverage, irrespective of the distance to the tower, yes?

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri May 11, 2012 4:51 am

OtherHand wrote:Early on, I was working on the theory that Bill had ... attempted a self-rescue to the Lost Horse station less than 2 miles away.
So basically, everything I've suggested you've already thought of. Glad I could be of so much help. :lol:

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri May 11, 2012 4:56 am

OK, so in terms of concrete items, we've got a vehicle parked at the Juniper Flats Trailhead and a ping on the Serin Drive cell tower at 0650 Sunday morning. Other than that, we've got nothing solid. Now all we need to do is to connect the dots. Piece of cake.

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Postby OtherHand » Fri May 11, 2012 6:27 am

Hikin_Jim wrote:Based on your JTxx searches, it looks like you've already considered the idea that 10.6 miles may not be fully accurate. It looks like you've already checked areas where there might be Serin Drive tower coverage, irrespective of the distance to the tower, yes?

Pretty much. Many SAR guys are wary of reported cell tower distances as they've seen them often wrong. And at first glance the 10.6 mile distance looks so improbable. So most of our earlier searching involved the clearing of cell phone areas regardless of distance. Even did a couple in the other direction from the trailhead, around Lost Horse Mt and Ryan Mt. It was only after the more likely cell phone areas didn't pan out that the 10.6 mile areas began to look more possible.

Hikin_Jim wrote:OK, so in terms of concrete items, we've got a vehicle parked at the Juniper Flats Trailhead and a ping on the Serin Drive cell tower at 0650 Sunday morning. Other than that, we've got nothing solid. Now all we need to do is to connect the dots. Piece of cake.


And maybe a few more items. A start time later than 10:30 AM, he wanted to be out of the park by around 5 PM, possible tracks heading west on the closed Juniper Flats Road, a possible bandanna, and we now know a whole lot of areas Bill isn't in.

Piece of brownie.
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri May 11, 2012 6:59 am

What about Bill's speed? Do we know anything about Bill's speed? He's been described as a "strong" hiker. Maybe if he's fast Quail Mountain isn't ruled out by his 5PM intended departure time.

It's light in June until around 8:30 PM, maybe later with twilight. There are plenty of times where I've wanted to be back earlier but when it comes right down to it, I decide to stay out later, particularly if there's still daylight and particularly if it's a place that it took some doing to get to.

I guess I'm suggesting the 5:00 intended departure time may not be a "hard" time. The DV Germans had a flight to catch if I recall correctly. Did Bill have anything that would make the 5:00 PM departure time a "hard" time?

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Postby OtherHand » Fri May 11, 2012 7:36 am

You guess is as good as mine when it comes to Bill's speed. I'd say Bill wasn't a Skyline Trail sort of person, but able. That said, when I did my anniversary hike on the same date Bill did his (and the same high temp for the day), by the time I reached Juniper Flat there's no way I would have tried to go up Quail, and I was at least 2 1/2 hours earlier than him and experiencing lower temps.

I don't know how solid the 5 PM time is, other than that's what he stated and he also wanted to go to Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown and it can get busy starting at 5.
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri May 11, 2012 8:26 am

OtherHand wrote: Mary... also said Bill was of the personality to keep pushing on until he dropped.
Not sure how flexible that sort of person would be in terms of changing plans due to weather conditions and a late start but I hear you regarding your anniversary hike experience.

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