Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Postby thatoneguy » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:30 pm

With any luck maybe some of his debris has been pushed in to the drainage area's with the heavy rains.
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Postby OtherHand » Sat Feb 23, 2013 9:28 pm

I'm a procrastinator, what can I say? Anyway, two more trip reports posted, one for Myth and one for me. Lots of new tracks to consider.

Myth's trip (JT46)

And my exercise in futility (JT47)
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Postby RichardK » Sun Mar 03, 2013 7:10 pm

If you have not done so yet, go to to see Adam Marsland's excellent report and video of his search. Thanks, Adam.

I'm going to put myself in Bill's place for a minute. I'm hiking somewhere around Quail Mtn. I suffer a leg injury that makes walking very difficult or impossible. If walking were not so difficult, I would limp back to my car. The first thing I do is turn on the cell phone that I turned off when entering the park. No signal. I turn the phone off to save the battery. That phone is a potential lifeline to rescue. If I knew to turn it off earlier, I'm sure going to turn it off now.

What next? No need to panic. People know that I am in JT. My car is at the trailhead. It is only a matter of time before I am reported missing and SAR comes. Sure, it may take a day or so for the wheels of the bureaucracy to grind into action, but people will come looking for me. All I have to do is crawl to the nearest rock or bush offering shade. Then, listen for the sounds of the search - ground crews or a helicopter. I will prepare to make myself obvious by whatever means available.

By Saturday night, I may be a bit discouraged. Where are the searchers? Well, all I talked about was Carey's Castle, but my car is not there. They will find my car and start looking here sooner or later. Be patient and sit tight. Help will come.

So, why didn't Bill do this?

I am coming to the conclusion that Bill did not suffer a leg injury. I have mentioned head injuries before. A concussion or stroke could have left Bill able to walk, but in a mental stupor. A stroke does not necessarily mean Bill would have been found deceased along the trail. Strokes have many after effects, mental confusion among them. A mentally impaired Bill might have wandered aimlessly. He could have passed through a pingable zone perhaps turning his phone on and off randomly. And he might well have continued wandering for days after the ping. Ed Rosenthal survived 6 days in similar temperatures in October of the same year.

This is a sad scenario because it makes Bill extremely difficult to find. No theory can be devised to account for the destination of a man walking without purpose. I hope I'm wrong and that the next search of Smith Water Canyon finds him.
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Postby Myth » Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:55 am

Well, as things currently stand, I'm going back to Smith Water's slopes this weekend. I notice that once again ( !!! ) my arrival will coincide with inclement weather, so I expect to once again be freezing and trying to spot objects amidst a light snow covering.

Oh well, it was fun last time, it will be fun this time ;)

I'm not going to do anything radical - just going to fill in more of the increasingly sparse gaps in search coverage in the cell area. I would have gone to check out the chute east of the odor location, but OtherHand weaved down it so I don't have to! My mileage may not be impressive since it will be fairly slow going, walking around rock outcroppings and peeking into nooks and crannies. This time the firm plan is to head there across the flats and spend more time up there. Tonight I'll probably put together my planned path, and I should be able to make a screen cap and post it here.

As far as Bill goes ... he doesn't even have to suffer a leg injury or a head injury. Simple dehydration can also take a toll on both mobility and mental clarity, especially in a 65-year old person. We don't know for sure how much water he had with him, but it likely was not enough for the route he took.

There is something that bothers me about the terrain between Quail Mountain and Smith Water: it is kind of ... undulating. Even with strong legs and two hiking poles, dipping in and out of washes is a tough ask. Once you've slid down into a wash, you've got to have a motivation to clamber back out on the other side.

Of course, you could also follow the ridges ... ;)

If he planned to get water at Smith Water, and let's say he had a compass and didn't take magnetic declination into consideration, he would have trended towards Smith Water in a somewhat easterly direction. Doesn't that fit in beautifully with OtherHand's theory? It can explain why he may have ended up in the cell coverage area, without pinging a tower if his cell was on, instead of hitting Smith Water further west, more in line with the Quail Mountain peak. And once you're up above Smith Water, the drop down looks really uninviting. He may have chosen to await rescue rather than risk life and limb on the slopes until a day or two had passed, and he was weakened from dehydration.

It is because everything seems to fit so well that I'm headed back to braid through existing search tracks one more time. I think this will be my last visit to this particular area.

I have another theory of sorts, based on the fact that, despite living in a desert region myself and being quite used to heat by mid-summer, I get very lazy for steep climbs when it is hot out: That Bill may have decided to approach Smith Water via Covington Flats instead. There is a low ( relative to the rest of the geography ) hill northwest of an unnamed spring in that area. Search teams have searched the spring and the wash it is in, but no-one's been up on that hill. I'm also aiming for that hill this weekend, separate from the Smith Water trip. The said-to-be less accurate of OtherHand's coverage maps suggest a faint lick of coverage on that hill. That's good enough for me ;) So, along with the better established search area, this is my long shot. I think it is much more likely that Bill would have pinged Palm Springs from that location, but I'll examine the northeast face of the hill, where Bill may have been shielded from Palm Springs towers. My theory is that he decided with the water he had and the temperature and time of his arrival that Quail Mountain didn't sound good, and he headed west on Juniper Flats road and up into Covington Flats, maybe with an eye on this spring or on the mining prospect nearby. The spring looks dry on Google satellite view ( and Smith Water's slopes look reasonable on Google satellite view! ) so he may have found himself out of water and out of luck. Why would he be up on the hill? I'll assume he knew Palm Springs can be visible from this area, since he drove down Keys View road for a look before stopping at Juniper Flats, explaining both his later than expected arrival at the trailhead and his knowledge that Palm Springs can be seen from the right elevation inside Joshua Tree, and thought that heading up the hill would allow him to place a call. Why didn't he go to the southwest side of the hill for a better line of sight? Well, I don't know. :) If Bill did things that looks logical to us armchair theorists, we would have found him by now! It is easy to spin a theory and assumptions. When you take them to the field, they crumble just as easily!
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Postby drndr » Wed Mar 06, 2013 1:16 pm

I like the idea of that hill. And if it's the one just opposite ( west) of the mouth of SWC, it is easy to get to. It's an unpopular theory but I have always thought it was too late in the day and too hot to go to Quail. Only thing is if I'm thinking of same hill as you, it is so close to the parking area in Covington. Be a shame if he didn't know it was there or see it.
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time"
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Postby Myth » Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:22 pm

Definitely a long shot, isn't it! Except for the possible lick of coverage on that hill, it doesn't make any sense. Even with that taken into consideration, it makes very little sense. But hey, I wanted to see the other end of Smith Water, and this hill has interested me for a while. It will make for a change, and it will also give me a better idea of what the terrain on this side looks like. I fully expect the parking area for Covington to be readily visible, completely destroying any shred of credibility for my theory. I might try the slopes on the southeast side of the spring instead, or in addition to.

There just isn't really any other cell coverage areas that makes sense from Juniper Flats. Everything else basically requires crossing either the park road, or Smith Water Canyon, or Quail wash with obvious traffic, footpaths, etc. Neither of which seems probable.
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Postby drndr » Wed Mar 06, 2013 5:31 pm

directly west of your hill is also a finger of coverage that I have also liked. It's been searched a bit by OH but it might be something there.

I have been hiking in JTree. Cell phone in pocket, it's on. Been checking it through out the day with no coverage. Then the next time I check I've got a text from someone. Just a small pocket of coverage. I still felt as remote as ever.

I was thinking out of exasperation he wanders through that finger to head down a gully to the lights of DHS or PS. Of course I would be assuming he didn't see or cross the roads or trails in the area
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time"
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Postby Myth » Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:22 am

Life ended up getting in the way of the Smith Water portion of the trip. Did hit up Covington Flats and came away thinking it would be highly unlikely to find Bill in that area.
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How Can I/We Help?

Postby datsun510 » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:00 pm

OtherHand, amazing work you have done (here and other cases). And also to all the others who have stepped in to lend a hand.
I too would like to help and have enlisted 2 other friends. We have quite a few years of experience (hiking/backpacking) between us, but only one has been in JTNP a few times.
Since we are relatively inexperienced in JTNP, could we join another party that might be going out in April for a long day hike?
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Re: How Can I/We Help?

Postby Actively Curious » Wed Mar 20, 2013 5:41 pm


Since we are relatively inexperienced in JTNP, could we join another party that might be going out in April for a long day hike?[/quote]

I am not "Other Hand, " but contact me via this chat board.
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