Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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

Postby Hikin_Jim » Tue Jul 09, 2013 1:17 pm

RichardK wrote: Bill's case shows the importance of leaving an exact itinerary rather than a laundry list of possible hikes.
You've got that right -- and I think a PLB is a very cheap form of "life insurance."

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Postby Myth » Tue Jul 09, 2013 3:05 pm

RichardK wrote:If it wasn't for that idiot ranger who couldn't see a white car parked a dozen feet off the road, the search would have started two days earlier and Bill might well be alive today. I can't help but think that a rational person would realize that the car would be discovered sooner or later and that SAR was on the way.

For what it's worth, JTNP requires overnight hikers to sign in at designated backcountry trailheads, of which Juniper Flats is one. You fill out a card with information such as where you are going and what your vehicle make and model is, as well as what dates you'll be out and back. So there's a record of which vehicles belong to day hikers and shouldn't be parked in the location overnight, as well as when overnight hikers become overdue.

Sounds great!

But, the sign-in card for the overnight trailhead also has verbiage to the effect of "Leaving a card in this drop-box does not mean someone from the park will come looking for you when you are overdue. They won't. We just check these occasionally to compile usage statistics." And sure enough, the box at the Boy Scout trailhead was brimming with old cards last time I used it. I guess if a car starts gathering dust at one of the overnight trailheads - or of course if a concerned person calls the park - someone will take a squizz, but the standard is that they don't check as a matter of course - and we have this case as evidence of that.

What was Bill's mental state on the first night out? All we can do is speculate because we will never know.


Indeed. We'll never know.

To speculate: if Bill read the information on the Juniper Flats backcountry trailhead board ( assuming it is the same info as the other three ones I've read personally, I haven't read Juniper Flats' board myself but the others seemed pretty boiler plate ) and for the registration cards, he would have known his car was actually not parked somewhere where its overnight presence would raise any concern.

He did know that Mary knew when he should be back in contact with her, and he did know that he didn't tell her exactly where he would be.

What that combination of information might have done for his mental state I do not know.

If I speculate from my position of comfort on what I might have done, I think that I would have been a bit concerned and tense the first night out, but also hopeful that search efforts would soon be under way, once Mary contacts the park in the morning. So perhaps that first night out I would focus on comfort, with the thought that rescue would come tomorrow. Probably it would not yet be in my thoughts that being rescued in time is entirely up to me, so I'd spend that vital first night of more comfortable temperatures not moving towards safety, but instead staying put. This is assuming that I had a physical injury and not something that impaired my mental state. Based on my experience with the terrain, a physical injury that makes walking unaided difficult would likely prevent you from covering distance exceeding perhaps some dozens of feet. This isn't the kind of terrain you can consistently and comfortably touch with anything other than the soles of your boots and the tips of your trekking poles. I know from hunkering down to peer under rock overhangs that the ground is mostly spiky - when I have put a hand down, I have sometimes come up with a palm of thorns from what seemed to be bare ground or mere innocent grass.

Towards Smith Water the terrain gets really bad. There's spots where you can cliff out, or where a badly judged rock hop can land you in a 8-foot deep gap between rocks you can't get back out of. It is those crevices that you don't even know about unless you are right on top of them that is in my thoughts most often. Maybe a desperate wave of a cell phone in the air bounced a brief ping off of a bird that happened to be flying by! Most likely not, but when you are perplexed, you can come of with some fairly outlandish maybe's.
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Postby Ric Capucho » Wed Aug 21, 2013 1:35 pm

Hi All,

Armchair adventurer from Switzerland dropping by... actually, I'm a Brit living here in the land of cuckoo clocks and alpine meadows.

I have a question I thought I'd put to you all, rather than pestering (yet again) poor OtherHand via email.

Here in Europe it's not unknown for two parties to arrange a hike such that they park their cars at either end of a long trail, then hike towards each other. They then meet and swap car keys, usually at a centrally located landmark and at an appointed time. Then each party continues on to their respective destinations, where there's obviously the other car waiting.

Then each party drives to an agreed rendezvous (invariably a pub) and re-exchange cars.

Done it myself a few times. Don't tell my car insurance company.

Obviously the key exchange approach frees us from the tyranny of doing a there and back again hike, the evils of which I personally try to avoid at all costs. I'm a loop man, myself, but sometimes the terrain or mountain valley forces a there and back anyway.

Is there a similar practice of key swapping for trail hikers over there in the USA?

This train of thought came from trying to find a reason why Bill would walk so many miles *away* from his car, and into a pingable zone. Emergency or not, it seems very strange.

I was once *very* late for such a rendezvous and was extremely lucky that the other party (a couple) were still just about in sight (and shouting and waving distance) as they finally gave up on me and were returning to their own car. Having waited for me for some time in British weather, they were less than impressed, I'm sorry to say. But we swapped keys anyway (really, really sorry again) and all was well when we later met and had a couple of beers.

Could a delayed Bill have have missed such a central rendezvous (somewhere on the CR&H trail) and simply tried to chase down the returning party (presumably to the Lower Covington Flat trailhead) and then... arrived at an empty LCF trailhead parking area totally exhausted, out of water long ago, and soon to be injured?

Of course if key swapping's a degenerate European habit shunned by all right-minded Americans then this is yet another lame theory shot down in flames.

Ric
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Postby Hikin_Jim » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:24 pm

Interesting speculation, Ric, and it is of course possible, but I don't think that there's any indication that Bill had this in mind or that he had done it on previous trips. Who knows, though, since Bill didn't really leave a "hike plan" with anyone -- something I try to do whenever I go out. Narrows down the search quite a bit if they know what you intend.

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Postby Ric Capucho » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:38 pm

Hi HJ,

Read all your posts on this thread with great interest.

But is key swap hiking something that happens in the USA?

Ric
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Postby neverwashasbeen » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:43 pm

Ric, the key swap is certainly done here in the US. I suspect that if Bill had made such an arrangement, the other party would have come forward by now.
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Postby Ric Capucho » Wed Aug 21, 2013 10:03 pm

Yeah, more than likely. Ah well...

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Postby Hikin_Jim » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:06 am

neverwashasbeen wrote:Ric, the key swap is certainly done here in the US. I suspect that if Bill had made such an arrangement, the other party would have come forward by now.
Unless there was foul play. Or aliens from Roswell. ;)

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Postby Ric Capucho » Thu Aug 22, 2013 1:27 pm

Hikin_Jim wrote:
neverwashasbeen wrote:Ric, the key swap is certainly done here in the US. I suspect that if Bill had made such an arrangement, the other party would have come forward by now.
Unless there was foul play. Or aliens from Roswell. ;)

HJ


I suppose the cell phone had a split second to register that ping as the UFO streaked up to its mother ship. :-)

Ric
Last edited by Ric Capucho on Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Ric Capucho » Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:24 am

More seriously, the central mystery here is why Bill would have extended the hike (to our minds) so very far away from his parked car that he could have entered the pingable arc from the Yucca Valley tower.

I mentally think of Bill's hike as in two parts: the logical part, i.e. Quail Mountain or Stubbe Spring or whatever orthodox hikes from the JF trail head; and then we have the illogical part, the "extension" that got him up to Smith Water or whatever pingable zone he found himself in.

OtherHand's theory that Bill overreached himself (or plain ran out of water) by heading towards Smith Water has been the best theory of the bunch to date, and remains so. But if the reason why there's no Bill found thus far around Smith Water turns out to be that he's simply not there, then we'll need to dream up another theory.

It seems a common view here that once Bill became injured then it's unlikely he travelled very far afterwards. It's also a common view here that Bill was a demon navigator and unlikely to have ever been lost. Ok, I go with those points. I also go with the veracity of the ping; it's a cornerstone, and once confidence is lost in that then it's game over until someone happens to stumble over Bill's stuff.

So if he made the bulk of that "extension" of his hike willingly, uninjured and knowing exactly where he was, then why? I dreamt up the key swapping scenario thinking that the only reason why Bill would have hiked so far from his car is because he never intended to return to his car in the first place, at least not by foot. Of course it's weak, but there was *something* unexpected about the events on that day. It puts Bill somewhere on the CH&R trail, at the LC trail head, or on the looooooooong dirt road in from Yucca Valley, which is well under the ping zone until yer get within a couple of miles of Yucca Valley. The only way to get a ping from that route seems to be by entering an UFO, hopping into a helicopter, or climbing one of the daunting hills on either side.

I suppose the 5354ft hill just a mile south west of the funny tear-drop shaped Lower Covington trail parking is the most climbable (and seems to be just high enough for a line of sight Yucca Valley ping at its very tippety top). Or even the 5222ft peak just a bit to the south of the 5354ft peak. How would that have been for "just under our noses"? But that entire hill's already been checked out numerous times, I think. :-(

There's also the lost keys scenario ("Damn it, they must be here somewhere. Damn damn damn. Ah well, I'll leave my bandana here as a marker and find 'em tomorrow.") which is even weaker as I personally would have returned to my car hoping that there might be another car parked right next to it. And then wait it out, take a few photos, enjoy the view, bitch about the lack of water, chew on an apple. Unless there was no other car, of course, in which case I'd have taken a deep breath and started up towards the Loop Road in twilight... but hiked as far as the (pingable) big bend in the road north east of Samuelson's Rock? Without being picked up during three days? No way.

Any more *realistic* ideas?

Ric
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