Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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Postby Myth » Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:37 am

Bending route 4b just a little more into the gully below 4b and checking out the area bounded by the radius highlight and the red and yellow search tracks seem intriguing, too.

If I can get out there later in Feb, I'm thinking of approaching the pingable zone from the south-south-west, much like the red search tracks. This might have been Bill's most likely approach path. I imagine, based on the topo lines, that Smith Water Canyon looks very intimidating indeed from that area.

After the ping registered Bill might have paused, looked at his surrounds, and decided his next route. I would like to pause in that area myself and think things over.

Perhaps this weekend I can try to make it up to the vegetation spot. I only have the afternoon, I expect to arrive at the park at 11 or so and put dibs on a camp spot over on the eastern side, which is where this weekend's long-planned trips will be based from. So I might need to hurry too much for my liking, but perhaps I can get there a bit earlier. I'd like to check it out in general, see if there is water there. Maaaaybe I can also bring in a water cache for the late Feb trip though I hesitate to leave it for that long. Still, if I can overnight somewhere in the area it would leave a lot more daylight for exploring. I might be able to persuade my partner that hiking in with a 2.5 gallon container of dead weight in a pack would be fun. I have this new ULA pack I want to stress test ... oh no wait, then I have to carry it ...
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Postby OtherHand » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:39 am

RichardK wrote:
As I understand it, Bill made 2 phone calls Thursday morning on the way to the park. After those calls, his phone pinged no more cell towers that day. The implication is that he turned his phone off to save the battery while driving to the park. So, when did he turn his phone back on so that the battery is mostly depleted? If you have ever carried a cellphone hiking out of range, you know it uses up a lot of battery searching for a signal. I suppose that he could have turned it on hoping for a signal when needing help and forgot to turn it back off, but that is purely speculative.


As far as is known, there were no registrations (pings) of Bill's phone after the two calls you noted until Sunday morning. This suggests he turned off his phone. And we have no idea of what level of charge remained in the phone after the calls. My current working theory is that Bill ran into some sort of difficultly and then turned on his phone in an effort to obtain assistance and probably left it on, checking it intermittently. Again, since no pings were recorded, this implies he was in an area with no Verizon coverage whatsoever. And you are correct that having a cell phone on where there's no cell coverage available will run down it's battery bigtime (I switch my phone to Airplane Mode when in the backcountry).
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Postby OtherHand » Wed Jan 23, 2013 6:30 pm

Hikin_Jim wrote:Well, whatever his intent, he was in the Pingable Zone on Sunday. After multiple days out, he couldn't have been in very good shape. He can't have made it far. I think focusing search efforts in and around the Pingable Zone makes sense.

If he did go west, I still think route 4 makes a lot of sense. There's the dog legged route that I laid out earlier. It also occurs to me that he could have tried for the ridge that is just east of the odor location ridge. It's hard to see since it's in pink, but something like "4b," below:
Image
"4a" is the dog legged route I laid out earlier.

HJ


Good thoughts, but as a bona fide expert on not finding Bill I'd urge a bit of caution on one thing, don't get too "anchored" to the cell zones. I did this early on and wasted a lot of time.

The splash maps show the direct line of sight to the Serin tower. They don't take into account reflections. Bill could have been outside your pingable area yet bounced a signal off it to the tower. That said, I doubt he'd be too far out of the area. You also have to factor in that the distance from Bill to the tower, even via a reflection should be close to 10.6 miles, maybe 11.1 miles max. Note that your pingable area is real close to that limit without considering any reflection distance.

Having been out on those ridgelines, I'd agree with you about a ridgeline being more desireable than a chute. Your 4B has been covered to some extent already. You can see that area very clearly on the update I did to the Smith Water southerly slope panorama. You can get at it directly below or via myJT45 update. Some hiding places remain in that area, but not many. And there's still that unexplored chute just below your "4B" label, which I REALLY don't want to have to go out and look at.

Big panorama of the southerly Smith Water slopes
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Wed Jan 23, 2013 9:14 pm

OtherHand wrote:I disagree with you on the take shelter scenario and consider it just a variant of lay down and die. If you take shelter you die, maybe just a while later.
Actually, I agree with you. To just hunker down is to merely await death. My thought was that his hunkering down was part of a larger strategy: travel in the cooler parts of the day and take shelter in the hottest parts of the day (standard military desert survival training). I think it’s noteworthy that his cell phone attempt was made at 0650, in the cool of the day. The time of the ping struck me from the very first time I read about it. One has to marvel at the fact that apparently Bill was still doing things on his behalf (as evidenced by his trying his cell phone) on day 4 in Joshua Tree when the temps were in the 90’s and he only had three bottles of water. His ability to do anything at all suggests to me that he didn’t travel in the hottest parts of the day. My thought was that he might hunker down for a time after his cell phone attempt until things cooled off and he tried whatever next steps he intended.

OtherHand wrote:Exit to the east? Possibly. However you don't have to hike up to point 4979 to see in that direction. The easterly view is great from most places on that slope, unless you're down in one of the deeper canyons. I think it's unlikely there was any climbing up anytime, due to the fact it apparently took him several days to make it to the 10.6 mile line. This strongly suggests to me some sort of very debilitating injury. Given that, there's probably a very strong urge to descend, and you can still head for Smith Water doing a gradual descent, using the elevation to gain forward distance.

I still rate descent into Smith Water as the most probable scenario I've heard so far. You find it unlikely that if he had the energy to descend into Smith Water, why didn't he use it to better effort? My response is that he didn't know how bad a descent into Smith Water is, compounded by the knowledge that water was there and relatively close as compared to other alternatives. It's conceivable he could have been a mile or less from the actual Smith Water Canyon water when things went south. That would seem like a pretty attractive destination to me. I'd go for it. I'm not saying he made it to the edge and started down, just that it was his plan. He may well never have made the canyon rim although that terrain can bring a sudden end to things.
I think that Bill was painfully aware of the extent of his injury. If he were up on that ridge near point 4979 where there is cell phone coverage, he might have decided after actually seeing the descent into Smith Water that he was physically incapable of descending and looked around for a “Plan B.” My thought was that pink routes 1 & 2 might then appeal to him even though Smith Water was pretty clearly his original plan.

OtherHand wrote:Good thoughts, but as a bona fide expert on not finding Bill I'd urge a bit of caution on one thing, don't get too "anchored" to the cell zones. I did this early on and wasted a lot of time.
Yeah, good point. My assumption is that Bill deliberatey went to a high point to try his cell phone (and would therefore be fairly close to pt. 4979), but that's just an assumption. Do note my use of the phrase "in and around" in conjunction with "Pingable Zone." My thought was that anything within reasonable traveling distance from the Zone for an injured, dehydrated man would be a good place to search. I wouldn't want to suggest that we search only the Zone itself.

OtherHand wrote:...there's still that unexplored chute just below your "4B" label, which I REALLY don't want to have to go out and look at.
Oh, you mean the one directly across from the "odor location?" :wink:

Well, I'm less sold now on my "hunker down" and "exit to the east" scenarios as having any higher probability than the "descent into Smith Water" scenario after this discussion. It's just that I can't get past how intimidating that descent would appear to an injured person. I guess that's why I have some inclination toward other scenarios.

Even with the Pingable Zone being somewhat more amorphous than what I outlined in green (because of possible bounced signals), he's still fairly close to that area on Sunday morning, and in his condition, he can't have gotten far.

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Postby Myth » Thu Jan 24, 2013 8:20 am

Hikin_Jim wrote:To just hunker down is to merely await death. My thought was that his hunkering down was part of a larger strategy: travel in the cooler parts of the day and take shelter in the hottest parts of the day (standard military desert survival training).

That is what my thoughts were, too. The moon was almost full. There likely was enough light at night to get by with, especially if you are traveling slowly.

I also think he might still be in a sheltered spot that was meant to be a "just rest a moment" spot.

I think it’s noteworthy that his cell phone attempt was made at 0650, in the cool of the day. The time of the ping struck me from the very first time I read about it.

Good thought. I didn't think of it quite that way - I just thought that it would have been hard to find any rest unprepared for overnighting and he might have been on the move again early.

he might have decided after actually seeing the descent into Smith Water that he was physically incapable of descending and looked around for a “Plan B.” My thought was that pink routes 1 & 2 might then appeal to him even though Smith Water was pretty clearly his original plan.

I've been having this kind of thoughts, too. This is why I'd like to spend some time on location looking around and thinking about it. Heck, I see there's suddenly a lot of rain in the forecast for Joshua Tree this weekend. That may well put the brakes on the excursion I have planned for Sunday - if it rains too much I'm probably not going to be able to take my little 2wd truck down the road I had my eye on. Not if I don't want a "Honey, I sunk the truck!" episode of my own. ;) So perhaps I'll have more time than I thought to head out in this direction, if I can persuade my companion.

It's just that I can't get past how intimidating that descent would appear to an injured person. I guess that's why I have some inclination toward other scenarios.

Maybe at some point, Bill ran out of options on being intimidated by the descent. Maybe at some point he would have had to try it as his only option. Still, I tend to lean a little more towards your thought that he might well have decided to exit to the east instead, hence my interest in that clump of vegetation.
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Fri Jan 25, 2013 11:54 am

Myth wrote:I also think he might still be in a sheltered spot that was meant to be a "just rest a moment" spot.
Yeah, that's another variation of the "hunker down" scenario which might put him in a sheltered spot.

At this point, I'm not sure there's any way to prioritize searching between "hunker down," "exit to the east," and "descent to Smith Water" based on what we know although it is intriguing that the odor location is directly across from that chute that OtherHand is just looking for an excuse to explore. :wink:

I do notice in the satellite view that there are a lot of pockets of shade, some quite large, on the north sides of rocks in the area.

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Questions

Postby RichardK » Sun Jan 27, 2013 11:28 am

Everytime I open OtherHand.org and see "ongoing" next to Bill's name, my heart sinks a little. I want to see the word "found."

I have questions that I keep turning over in my mind. I don't know if they will ever be answered.

Does anyone have experience with a backcountry injury that makes walking difficult or impossible? Something like a broken leg or a badly sprained ankle or knee. Without hiking poles, would Bill have even been able to stand? If he could get upright, how well could he hobble along? How much distance could he have covered once injured? Several miles or no more than a few hundred feet? Could the place where he was injured, the place where the cell tower was pinged, and the place where he eventually passed away, all be fairly close together?

I am still puzzled as to why Bill was near Smith Water Canyon or somewhere along that 10.6 mile arc. He had to be aware of his water consumption. I find it difficult to believe that he drank the last of the third bottle and only then concocted a plan to get more water at SWC. The picture of the terrain from Quail Mountain to SWC makes me think that it wouldn't have taken that much longer to just return to his vehicle. Besides, if 3 bottles got him the 6 miles from the trailhead to Quail, then it would have taken more than 3 bottles to cover the extra distance from SWC back to his car. He was going to arrive at his car without water either way. I don't see how water at SWC helps him before his injury. What am I missing here?

Still, something drew Bill to that 10.6 mile arc. If not water, what? Tom has rejected the theory that Bill, like Ed Rosenthal, just got lost and wandered aimlessly. However, could Bill have suffered a medical incident like a stroke that left him able to walk, but mentally impaired or confused? Maybe a physician could comment on this possibility.

Maybe Bill planned a big loop hike: trailhead to Quail to SWC to Samuelsons to trailhead with a water resupply at SWC - an ambitious hike for someone who did not start until after 10:20AM with temps in the upper 90's and who planned to finish by 5PM. Of course, the sun did not set until 8PM. Bill could have changed his plans on the fly and decided to leave the park later. After all, his original plan was apparently Carey's Castle and he changed that.

Too many questions, not enough answers.
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Postby » Sun Jan 27, 2013 8:42 pm

After a few years I refreshed my mind reading the background info.

There are some odd things that stand out, but none more so than Mimi Gorman's statement about Bill's car being oriented in a different direction than it was found. She was very specific in her statement with a seemingly strong level of confidence. Has anyone ever bothered to contact her?

Bill initially wanted to go to Carey's Castle, but was dissuaded presumably b/c of the heat, location, and strenuous nature of the hike. Does it really make sense that he would go hike Quail mountain instead? Still a strenuous hike, although in a more popular area.

And there's really no evidence that he went up Quail, other than maybe a bandana.

I would think he stayed relatively flat. Perhaps Smith Water was his only goal Maybe he made it to SWC, refilled on water, and decided there was enough time, water, and energy to go up Quail (and end up injured in the area you are currently concentrating on).

Or could he have somehow missed the entrance to SWC, and continued northwest, and then realizing he passed the entrance, he tried to go cross-country east as a "short-cut" to SWC?
 
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Postby » Sun Jan 27, 2013 8:51 pm

Do you think Mimi Gorman was incorrect?

"At approximately 13:15 hours, Ms. Gorman saw a "newish" white sedan parked at the Juniper Flat parking area. She said it was the only vehicle there, and it was backed in and parked away from the curb, at an angle. The front of the vehicle was facing Keys' View Road. I aske Ms. Gorman to draw a diagram of how it was parked. Her diagram showed the vehicle parked more toward the middle of the parking lot. She told me the rear end was parked toward the gate. From Ms. Gorman's description and diagram, the vehicle was parked differently than when it was located by the CHP helicopter later that day.

Ms. Gorman also said she remembers seeing something yellow, organ, or red on the front of the vehicle - possibly on the dashboard or front grill. This is consistent with the yellow parkin pass which was on EWASKO's dashboard. I showed Ms. Gorman a photo of the vehicle on my computer and she immediately exclaimed "that was not how it was parked." She also told me the vehicle in the phote resembled the vehicle she saw parked at Juniper Flats at 13:15 on Saturday, June 26, 2010. She, again, told me the white vehicle was the only one parkedin the parking lot.

Lastly, Ms. Gorman told me she purposely checked the Juniper Flats parking lot for vehicles because she likes to eat there when no one is present. Once she saw the white vehicle, she did not stop to eat lunch.
 
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Postby OtherHand » Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:10 pm

Zé wrote:After a few years I refreshed my mind reading the background info.

There are some odd things that stand out, but none more so than Mimi Gorman's statement about Bill's car being oriented in a different direction than it was found. She was very specific in her statement with a seemingly strong level of confidence. Has anyone ever bothered to contact her?


If you've ever had to deal with the general public (i.e., not trained observers like law enforcement) you quickly come to realize how bad the typical person is in relating things accurately. For that matter, don't you know people that have been extremely confident about something but you knew them to be in fact wrong? Witnesses are wrong....a lot. Based upon the other witnesses of the vehicle I think she was wrong. Now if she said she had driven into the parking area, pulled up next to the car and then described it as pointing the wrong way, I'd pay more attention. But she did a drive by and misperceived the details. In unresolved cases there will always be some oddness (if there's nothing odd, then THAT should set off alarm bells!) Usually the actual series of events is that which minimizes and explains the oddness to the extent possible. If I ever went missing on a hike, I guarantee you there would be craploads of things that wouldn't make sense to outside observers but perfect sense to me.

Zé wrote:Bill initially wanted to go to Carey's Castle, but was dissuaded presumably b/c of the heat, location, and strenuous nature of the hike. Does it really make sense that he would go hike Quail mountain instead? Still a strenuous hike, although in a more popular area.


Part of his changing from Cary's to Quail may have been that his fiancee Mary did some Googling about Cary's and wasn't comfortable about Bill going there alone because of the remoteness. But Quail, while longer is mostly trail and the higher elevation makes it cooler. I'd say neither location is popular on a weekday in Summer!

Zé wrote:And there's really no evidence that he went up Quail, other than maybe a bandana.

I would think he stayed relatively flat. Perhaps Smith Water was his only goal Maybe he made it to SWC, refilled on water, and decided there was enough time, water, and energy to go up Quail (and end up injured in the area you are currently concentrating on).

Or could he have somehow missed the entrance to SWC, and continued northwest, and then realizing he passed the entrance, he tried to go cross-country east as a "short-cut" to SWC?


Quail was at the top of the list and he implied to Mary that's where he was going (although Lost Horse Mountain was oddly commingled with the Quail trip). I hadn't thought about a "reverse Smith Water" scenario before. Interesting. But for someone going to Smith Water the Juniper Flats trailhead is about as worst a starting point as you could pick. Damn long hike. It would be pretty late in the day by the time he would have got to Smith Water and the idea of then scaling the south slopes to get to Quail would seem pretty nuts. I suppose it would be possible to loop back to the Juniper Flat trailhead via Johnnie Lang Canyon but it would be an epic hike. I don't think Bill was an (intentionally) epic sort of guy. But if I ever run out of things to do, that could be....um...fun.
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