Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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Postby OtherHand » Sun May 06, 2012 7:17 pm

Zé wrote:so there was only one ping, from the start of his hiking on Thursday until the ping on Sunday?


Yep, as far as I've been able to find out from RSO. That was the one and only ping.

There were a couple of calls Bill made from the Palm Springs area as he was driving to Joshua Tree, and they showed up. But one would think he would have hit cell towers all along the drive in, and thus it would have been possible to determine his approximate arrival. Law enforcement's use of cell data technology is still erratic, and officers don't always know the right questions to ask of the cellular engineers. Ya gotta speak geek.
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Postby halhiker » Sun May 06, 2012 7:47 pm

Hikin_Jim wrote:Possibly although I don't see why he would head to the north and west and then go to Stubbe Spring. Dunno. He appears to have done something very odd, so maybe you're right.

Here's a flyer on Bill Ewasko with his photo. Always helps me to humanize things.

5'10" 165#. Looks fairly fit. My dad could hike a lot of 20 year olds into the ground when he was 65.

HJ


I'm just thinking maybe on his way back he ran low on water and decided to head to Stubbe Spring and then loop back to the parking area. If he went by Fan Canyon and was in bad shape he could have thought it easier to try to head down the the Coachella Valley. Having been up there I can see how one could do that, especially if one's hot, tired and perhaps a bit delusional. Or maybe he took a wrong turn and went down toward Fan Canyon.

Perhaps I think it's feasible because I've hiked up from 1000 Palms and have looked down and thought how easy it would be just to walk down one of those ridges sometime.

It is always strange when someone disappears completely. And until they're found it's hard to rule anything out.
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Sun May 06, 2012 9:22 pm

OtherHand wrote:Your thought about him heading for the nearest roadhead has been a working theory of mine for a while. The trick is coming up with a destination and route that keeps him out of all cell phone coverage until early Sunday morning.
Unless of course he turned off the cell phone to conserve the battery.

Say he has an accident on Thursday. He tries to call for help. No signal. He wisely turns off the cell phone to conserve the battery. He then hunkers down hoping that the cavalry will arrive. A day or two goes by. No cavalry. Desperate, he strikes out for the nearest road head. He heads down the ridge that you took the pano shot of. Reaching something of a high point, he turns on the cell phone, a brief ping gets through but alas his battery dies or he just doesn't have good enough reception to get a call through.

Pretty speculative on the details, yes, but the point is that he could have been turning on and off the phone. I've frequently turned off or put my cell into "airplane mode" to preserve the battery in the back country.

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Postby OtherHand » Sun May 06, 2012 10:04 pm

Hikin_Jim wrote:Unless of course he turned off the cell phone to conserve the battery.

Say he has an accident on Thursday. He tries to call for help. No signal. He wisely turns off the cell phone to conserve the battery. He then hunkers down hoping that the cavalry will arrive. A day or two goes by. No cavalry. Desperate, he strikes out for the nearest road head. He heads down the ridge that you took the pano shot of. Reaching something of a high point, he turns on the cell phone, a brief ping gets through but alas his battery dies or he just doesn't have good enough reception to get a call through.

Pretty speculative on the details, yes, but the point is that he could have been turning on and off the phone. I've frequently turned off or put my cell into "airplane mode" to preserve the battery in the back country.

HJ


OK, lets play with this scenario. Where did he have his accident? Assuming a Quail ascent, if it was anywhere prior to the ascent his nearest help is still the trailhead he left from and he'd return that way. No ping possible (and he's not been found in that area anyway). If he's reached the ridge top, that's superb cell coverage from both the Serin tower and also Coachella Valley. He could call Mars. There is only one rather small spot on the ridge where he could have crossed over and not hit cell coverage. That's where I went on JT34, and took pics of that spot. Being there, the obvious route is down canyon which dumps out toward Quail Spring and Samuelson's Rocks, and that canyon has been covered.

You are correct to turn off your cell phone in the backcountry, but many do not think of it, especially people in distress. Most phones really burn through their battery when they are searching for a tower.
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Mon May 07, 2012 7:22 am

Bill arrives Thursday and parks at the Juniper Flats Trailhead. He follows the old road to Juniper Flats. At the end of the road, he sees a track, a track clear enough that I can see it on satellite photos. The location of the bandana that was found appears to be consistent with someone following this track.

He follows the track to Point "A" which is more or less on the summit ridge.

From "A," he proceeds toward his objective, Quail Mtn. He contours around to the right of Pt. 5787, perhaps in the vicinity of point "B." He gets injured somewhere in here. He attempts a cell phone call, but can't get out. His battery is low. He shuts the phone off.

After his injury, he hunkers down. While hunkering down, he's thinking. He's in trouble; he needs to get out; and he needs water. He waits out the remainder of Thursday and all day Friday. Saturday comes. No help has arrived. Recall that the CHP chopper doesn't find his vehicle until Saturday night. Bill decides he's on his own.

Bill has only got the map sheets for Quail Mountain and the trailhead. He doesn't have the map sheets for points west, but he does have the NPS park map. Because of his injury, he figures he can't go down that rugged drainage that he came up, but from what he's seen of the country to the west, it's not too bad, and on the NPS map, he can see there's a road head there in Lower Covington Flat. Injured, he starts dragging himself toward his objective, the aforementioned road head. Maybe not a great idea, but remember that Bill is injured, possibly in shock, and probably dehydrated.

Bill heads down and winds up on the ridge we've discussed previously, the ridge marked by points "E" through "H." By early Sunday morning, he hits a high point and activates his cell phone. He can't get a call out for whatever reason, but a ping does get out.

Unable to make a call, he is forced to move on. He's looking for a way off that ridge, no small thing for an injured man. It's quite steep to the west. If he's got a lower extremity injury, he may not be able to stand. I wonder what surveying that ridge looks like to a man who can do no more than sit up. Are there any obvious terrain features that to a man who cannot stand might be appear to be a way off that ridge?

Anyway, not an air tight scenario by any means, but I am trying to come up with two things: a) intention/objective and b) route.

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Mon May 07, 2012 7:44 am

OtherHand wrote:No ping possible (and he's not been found in that area anyway). If he's reached the ridge top, that's superb cell coverage from both the Serin tower and also Coachella Valley. He could call Mars. There is only one rather small spot on the ridge where he could have crossed over and not hit cell coverage. That's where I went on JT34, and took pics of that spot.
The large bump to the right of Quail Mtn in your photo appears to be Pt. 5787.
Image
My scenario has Bill crossing the ridge south of Pt. 5787 -- right in the dead zone identified in your photo.

Being there, the obvious route is down canyon which dumps out toward Quail Spring and Samuelson's Rocks, and that canyon has been covered.
I think you mean this canyon. Makes sense in terms of route, but what's his objective? I've got this crazy idea that Bill Ewasko was a thinking man. It takes a fair amount of thought to come in from Georgia and do a cross country hike in JTNP. My nutty idea is that Bill had something in mind. It make not make sense to us now in hindsight with all the facts, but to Bill it made sense at the time. I'm trying to come up with not just a route but an objective. My thought is that the road head in Lower Covington was what Bill had in mind. I could be very, very wrong here.

You are correct to turn off your cell phone in the backcountry, but many do not think of it, especially people in distress. Most phones really burn through their battery when they are searching for a tower.
He may have tried to call out when first injured. When he made the call he may have then realized that his battery was very low and turned the phone off.

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Postby OtherHand » Mon May 07, 2012 8:37 am

Hikin_Jim wrote:
Anyway, not an air tight scenario by any means, but I am trying to come up with two things: a) intention/objective and b) route.
HJ

Yeah, I've done that a lot. I've come up with perfect combinations of those two, but Bill hasn't cooperated with me! BTW, I don't want to come off like an expert on this or sound like I'm summarily dismissing anyone's ideas. Obviously I'm not getting it right myself. I like hearing voices from outside my head every now and then, as it may lead to fresh ideas.

A few things about the ridge you've brought up. It's not like it hasn't been searched. Here's a screen grab from Google Earth of that area showing ground coverage. Original search in orange and our tracks in red. Considering how open and exposed that terrain is, it's really good coverage:

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

Second, there's good cell coverage for almost all of that ridge. A few blobs from the Serin tower, but mostly down to the Coachella Valley. The visibility is great and it's where you'd think to try and call.

Thirdly, it doesn't feel right that he would stay on that ridgeline for any length when you see the main trail just below. Granted it is a good descent, but it doesn't appear difficult when looking from above. In fact it looks easier than it turns out being. So for someone on that ridge, I think the well visible trail on the valley floor is a strong attractor.

And focusing bit on this "attractor" business, that's why the canyon I mentioned, running northeasterly from the saddle looks interesting (but has been searched). The view from Quail Ridge makes the area to the NE look VERY close and easy to get to. There are a lot of optical illusions out there. And the upper part of the canyon, visible in that saddle panorama, looks like a piece of cake. It rapidly gets very difficult, but that's not readily visible. And injured or otherwise distressed people have a tremendously strong urge to travel downhill.

But I agree with you, Bill had a plan. It may have been a very wrong plan, but it was....something. We just need to figure out what it was, fitting it around what we know and don't know. Easy, huh?
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Mon May 07, 2012 9:09 am

OtherHand wrote:Bill had a plan. It may have been a very wrong plan, but it was....something. We just need to figure out what it was, fitting it around what we know and don't know. Easy, huh?
Yeah, piece of cake.

That map you posted is really helpful. The map with all the tracks is a little hard to read.

Comparing an Acme mapper topo to your track map, I notice no one has gone down the gully that I've marked with an "H." How's that for a long shot place that he'd be? :)

Are the bottoms of all of those ravines pretty visible from the surrounding ridges? I agree that it'd be a little weird for him to stay on the ridge, but if he did, he has the problem of negotiating the steep terrain to the west of the ridge in order to get down to the alluring trail.

We haven't got much to go on. We've got that track I spotted on the satellite photos. And we've got a bandana that might not be his but does more or less line up with the track seen in the satellite photos. Then we've got a dead zone that pretty much is where he would be had he followed that track in the satellite photos. Finally, we've got a ping at 10.6 miles from a cell tower. I put the ping atop that ridge, but maybe that's not where the ping belongs. What other ping locations line up with the track seen in the satellite photos, the bandana, and the dead zone?

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Postby drndr » Mon May 07, 2012 2:19 pm

I know very little about search and rescue but the story is interesting as well as the energy you've put into trying to figure it out.

I hiked out there Jan and Mar 2011. Both big hikes in a lot of the same area. Remembered a Ranger checking on us at JF trailhead and telling us about the missing hiker.

So I was wondering what kind of condition the remains would be in if someone was to stumble upon them. I'm assuming early searchers would have found evidence of mountain lion attack. I only say this because I remember separating from my group and going through Smith water canyon alone and coming across BIG saucer size cat paw prints. Freaked me out. Could a mountain lion drag a man his size up into a hole in the canyon wall with no trace?
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Postby OtherHand » Mon May 07, 2012 4:52 pm

I don't know much about mountain lion attacks, but I'd guess there would be evidence of disturbance on the trail or route. Maybe some debris.

Yeah, Smith Water seems to be a haunt of the big kitties. Lots of Big Horn, which is probably the draw.
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