Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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

Postby drndr » Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:14 pm

another search conducted by other hands page. I had been thinking about all the ping's mentioned in the news about the Malaysian flight and it made me want to check into OH's updates. It had been awhile. The searcher mentioned also thinking about the lost flight.
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time"
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Postby Ric Capucho » Sat Mar 29, 2014 3:06 am

It was an interesting trip report, and expands a little on the searches around Covington Flats. But I'm wondering if it might be a bit premature giving up on Smithwater Canyon just yet. Everything points at SWC, except any physical evidence so far.

Weird.

Ric
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JT 61

Postby RichardK » Sun Apr 06, 2014 4:02 pm

Adam Marsland expresses well the nagging thought that there is something about this case that is just not right.

We’ve all scratched our heads over what could have befallen Bill that he’d be incapacitated out of cell range for 2 1/2 days before he was able to ping the tower. But there are only a few places that that ping could have come from, and they’ve been pretty well searched. He’s not in the immediate vicinity of those spots. So how is it that Bill is so injured that it takes him 2 1/2 days to cover anywhere from 1 to 10 miles (depending on where this hypothetical injury occurred), and yet as soon as he’s pinged the tower (and at the point when the search and rescue has begun in earnest), he’s so able-bodied that he disappears from the scene to points unknown, never to be found? The timeline doesn’t seem to add up. It requires him to be stuck in a fairly small area for two days, then ping a tower in passing, and then immediately vanish some inaccessible place when your only logical exit points are obvious and well-traveled


I believe that something mental happened to Bill - concussion from a fall, stroke, dehydration, hyperthermia. He was able to walk, but out of it mentally. Given that SWC appears to be nearly searched out, either on foot or by other means, then it is time to look elsewhere which is what Adam has done. Thank you for your efforts.
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Re: JT 61

Postby Ric Capucho » Mon Apr 07, 2014 2:59 am

RichardK wrote:Adam Marsland expresses well the nagging thought that there is something about this case that is just not right.

We’ve all scratched our heads over what could have befallen Bill that he’d be incapacitated out of cell range for 2 1/2 days before he was able to ping the tower. But there are only a few places that that ping could have come from, and they’ve been pretty well searched. He’s not in the immediate vicinity of those spots. So how is it that Bill is so injured that it takes him 2 1/2 days to cover anywhere from 1 to 10 miles (depending on where this hypothetical injury occurred), and yet as soon as he’s pinged the tower (and at the point when the search and rescue has begun in earnest), he’s so able-bodied that he disappears from the scene to points unknown, never to be found? The timeline doesn’t seem to add up. It requires him to be stuck in a fairly small area for two days, then ping a tower in passing, and then immediately vanish some inaccessible place when your only logical exit points are obvious and well-traveled


I believe that something mental happened to Bill - concussion from a fall, stroke, dehydration, hyperthermia. He was able to walk, but out of it mentally. Given that SWC appears to be nearly searched out, either on foot or by other means, then it is time to look elsewhere which is what Adam has done. Thank you for your efforts.



Food for (in my case) addled thoughts. But I'm sharing the below hoping to show that there's a non-mental scenario that can explain that baffling timeline.

(Bear with me).

There're only two tangible clues as to Bill's disappearance. There are a few others, but they seem to be so very tenuous in comparison to those two, and believe me I've looked at every clue on Tom's website, regardless of weight.

Clue One: The location of Bill's car and his assumed footprints leading off up the Juniper Flats Road, whilst not the most secure pieces of evidence, seemed to be good enough for the experts at hand to trigger an extensive (and expensive) search and rescue in the westerly direction. You know what? That's good enough for me; Bill hiked west or northwest and that's that. Cornerstone.

Clue Two: the 6am Sunday morning ping, the physics of which limit its origination to between 10.6 and 11.1 miles of the Serin Drive cellphone tower. Again, that's good enough for me. There was a ping. It came from Bill's phone.

However, that ping naturally triggers a further set of assumptions that I'm now questioning:

Assumption 1. That the only way that the ping could have occurred would have been by direct line of sight, or by a reflection off a rockface, or by any of the other fuzzy ways in which cellphone signals can propagate out of line of sight, as we all benefit from within cities. But that the directly (and indirectly pingable) areas are defined by topography. And topography doesn't change much inside JTNP. And growing trees don't help us, as trees rather unhelpfully soak up cellphone signals.

Assumption 2. Transient events that lead to a cellphone briefly attaining a signal are so unlikely (remember the joking suggestion of a passing bird earlier in the thread? Or Bill throwing his cellphone upwards out of a crevice?) that they can be discounted. And anyway, such a transient event's not going to attain a *strong* signal.

Assumption 3. Thus Bill must still have been ambulatory in order to reach a pingable (or pingable by reflection) area, and presumably compus mentus enough to be able to switch his cellphone on for one last attempt to get a signal.

Assumption 4. That if Bill was ambulatory enough to enter a pingable area, then he could have been ambulatory enough to exit that area; but Bill would have been so weak that he's to be found fairly close to the area where the ping originated.

(Please continue to bear with me, folks).

So, after obsessive googling on every way that a cellphone may get a transient (out of line of sight) signal I finally found a mechanism. And that mechanism turns out to be fairly common. It's called atmospheric or tropospheric ducting (go google, shoo) and it seems that it's a total pain for the cellphone industry: signals bounce off transient boundary layers in the atmosphere that not only lead to strong or stronger signals out of line of sight (arguably good) but also cause signals to propagate strongly well out of their natural cellphone tower zone defined by the curvature of the earth(unarguably bad, as this causes cellphone towers to trip each other up, it seems). In fact *avoiding* ducting is the primary reason why signals from cellphone towers are typically limited to less than 10 degrees above the horizon.

Regional ducting events arise because of big weather systems pushing warm air over cold air or vice versa. This allows Californians to enjoy Florida radio stations, and such events can last for days or weeks. Hardly transient.

But there's a much more localised ducting phenomena that arises *especially* during the early morning hours when the air is at its most stable, and before the morning sunrise breaks it up. The air can layer itself transiently in the night's calm and strong signals can occur in normally out of signal areas.

Now I have flimsy but interesting evidence that there might have been the necessary conditions for local ducting on that Sunday morning. I'll set it out here, and duck as the rotten tomatoes come my way:

I extracted the historical hourly weather reports for Palm Spring airport (the nearest source of such records I can lay my googling fingers on, and I'm a lapsed private pilot so METARs are a natural first place for me to look) and found that almost every morning from June 25th through to the 28th broken cloud formed at about 9,000 feet between the hours of 3:00am and 6am. Any pilot will tell you that such broken layers of cloud tend to form at boundary layers and such layers tend to spread way beyond the airport's perimeter fence. Ergo, I can put my hand on my heart and state that there were nice and stable boundary layers forming during the wee hours of that period. But my hand drops again if someone were to ask me if I guarantee that those boundaries were aligned nicely to allow that single, strong ping at 6:50am on Sunday morning.

But... but... a transient local ducting event could explain an awful lot, even if Occam would have to toss his razor out of the window. A hitherto unpingable area could temporarily become strongly pingable; which would have the same effect of draining the last half watt of energy from the cellphone as any other scenario. However, *this* scenario does *not* require an *ambulatory* Bill wandering around for two and a half days, crossing and recrossing and avoiding obvious trails and roads. Nor does it even require Bill to switch on his cellphone that Sunday morning. If this scenario is played out (backwards) we have Bill still compus mentus enough to switch on his phone immediately after whatever emergency that happened to him that day happened, but it doesn't necessarily mean he was in any way ambulatory by the time of the ping. Or even ambulatory in the period immediately after whatever event befell him that fateful day.

Bill might well have been immobilised off-trail on the 24th, then switched his cellphone on (no reception) and then was forced to sit it out waiting for help that would never arrive. Snakebite? Two broken legs? Broken spine? Succumbed within moments of the emergency? I don't want to seem insensitive in conjecturing such things. I really hope that *when* Bill is found by Tom that there'll be a note or other indicator as to what happened to him. Seems like Bill was a hell of a guy; I'd have liked to have met him. Days later (morning of the 27th) conditions are "just so" for a bit of local ducting to initiate that ping, more than likely without Bill's knowledge. If Bill was in any condition to look, he may later have noted that his cellphone was totally drained.

So that's it: ducting opens up a non-ambulatory scenario, and sidesteps the need for a mental reason for that strange timeline.

A boundary layer at 9,000 feet doesn't decrease that distance by much as the terrain in that part of JTNP is somewhere between 4,500 feet and 5,500 feet, so a bit of triangulation (Serin Tower's at 3,800 feet, Covington trailhead's about 4,800 feet, assumed boundary's at 9,000 feet) reduces the arcs of the maximum and minimum ping location by about 0.1 miles. So between 10.5 and 11.0 miles then, close enough to the line of sight to be irrelevent.

And *where* within those arcs might this scenario lead our search? Well I wouldn't want Tom to be looking elsewhere until he's turned those final stones on the side of Smithwater Canyon where Occam's Razor tells us Bill surely must be. But the ducting scenario does open up further possibilities in areas previously thought to be so hopelessly out of cellphone coverage that they were hitherto not worth even a glance. And the cumulative tracks on Tom's website show that there's a surprising amount of unexplored area between those arcs to the west of SWC.

Ric
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Tropospheric ducting

Postby RichardK » Tue Apr 15, 2014 9:45 am

If tropospheric ducting allowed Bill's cell phone to hit the Serin Drive tower without a line of sight path, then might not the phone have also hit other towers in the area as well? Why just one tower?

The brevity of the connection - just one ping - has always puzzled me. I refuse to believe that Bill's battery died at the exact moment he finally managed to get a cell signal. It's too much coincidence. While ducting is a transient phenomena, it usually lasts longer that a few seconds.

I still feel that we are circling around the case, not getting to its core.
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Re: Tropospheric ducting

Postby Ric Capucho » Tue Apr 15, 2014 11:11 am

RichardK wrote:If tropospheric ducting allowed Bill's cell phone to hit the Serin Drive tower withouit a line of sight path, then might not the phone have also hit other towers in the area as well? Why just one tower?

The brevity of the connection - just one ping - has always puzzled me. I refuse to believe that Bill's battery died at the exact moment he finally managed to get a cell signal. It's too much coincidence. While ducting is a transient phenomena, it usually lasts longer that a few seconds.

I still feel that we are circling around the case, not getting to its core.



That's a good point.

However, my view is that the 10 degree elevation limits of the many other towers way down in the Palm Spring area preclude themselves to aligning with ducting boundary layers; as designed in fact. Ducting is to be avoided, an axiom of the cellphone industry states. But the Serin drive tower is waaaaaay up there at 3,800 feet so may be more susceptible to ducting than those lower down.

Ric
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JT65

Postby RichardK » Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:59 pm

At the risk of posting on a topic that seems to have been talked to death, I will point out that Adam Marsland has a new search for Bill here:

http://www.otherhand.org/home-page/sear ... 5-5312014/
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Postby Ric Capucho » Thu Jun 12, 2014 12:09 am

I'm finding Adam Marsland's recent posts regarding Upper Covington very interesting. Of course Tom Mahood continues to scour Smithwater Canyon which is really the *right* thing to do; but Adam's curve ball Upper Covington approach might just work out.

The weird cellphone receptions Adam's encountering on the western edge of Upper Covington (zero reception from Coachella Valley, even in plain line of sight) make sense if one considers the ten degree elevation limits usually imposed on towers by design to avoid ducting events. If I'm right then every Verizon connection anywhere in that area will be via the Serin Tower.

If anyone's interested, I have an iPhone special code that allows you to identify (sort of) which tower you're connected to.

I can also see a chance that Bill entered the maze of washes and canyons west of Stubbe Spring, but I'm a bit sceptical as to why he would have exited out of the maze into the north west of Upper Covington. Looking at the map I can see a couple of more direct easterly routes into Upper Covington that look slightly more likely (Bill's in Smithwater Canyon, of course).

Scenario is that he went to Prospect X; it's just to the west of Stubbe Spring (you'll see it on the topo) then he went north along the big wash (unnamed, so I hereby christen it Big Wash) direction Lower Covington. Then at point E on the ACME Mapper links below there are two possible routes:

One is the wash that runs more or less westerly from point E in Big Wash into the toe of Upper Covington. I'm certain that Bill isn't *there* but conjecture that this was a possible route into Upper Covington which he enters at point F (see the link below). And maybe there'll be evidence of a camp or abandoned rucksack or something (or most likely nothing) along that way.

Western route from Stubbe Spring into Upper Covington


The other route requires two washes. One is the left hand wash from Big Wash that exits into the southerly tip of Lower Covington at point G, all of which Tom checked out on JT39, and then there's a further wash that exits the west of the lowest part of Lower Covington and enters Upper Covington. Hard to describe, but it's a wash that goes through the middle of the rocky dome that divides Upper and Lower Covington, one step south of the CRHT entering at point I below. Similar conjecture that evidence of a camp or rucksack may be laying there. Or lots of mountain lion paw prints.

Northwestern route from Stubbe Spring into Upper Covington via Lower Covington


Neither routes have been checked out as far as I can tell.

So what's Ric's latest bonkers theory?

Bill gave up on Carey's Castle and planned an epic route instead. That's what I would have done having had my Carey adventure thwarted by a solemn promise to a loved one. So he planned a trip west along the old Juniper Flats road and through to Stubbe Spring, then down to Prospect X for a look see, then a scramble down to Big Wash and turn north. Then along one of those two wash routes until he joins up with the jeep trail in Upper Covington. Then back along the CRHT to his car. An epic loop that wouldn't require a single step of backtracking anywhere. That's about twenty miles in total, and yes *very* ambitious in that heat. But perfectly doable on paper or Google Earth or whatever, given the right conditions; I regularly make similar epic trips here in Switzerland with far more dramatic elevation changes (the Alps do that to yer), albeit not in those insane temperatures, but yeah it gets hot enough.

Sadly he never joined the Upper Covington jeep trail, or someone would have stumbled over him by now. Or maybe he did, but decided to cut the corner that joins with the CRHT. So perhaps he'll be found to the east of the jeep trail towards or even a bit beyond the very limit of the Serin Tower range, deep in the non-pingable shadow. Of course I'm theorising a catastrophic event on the very first day, followed by a transient tropospheric ducting event allowing that brief ping a few days later, which would mean nothing would be found in those route washes anyway. Point B marks the area:

Possible location of Bill (B for Bill marks the spot)

Folks, these routes are my own crazy theories and I wouldn't want anyone to check out these areas putting themselves at risk from the heat or terrain. But if Bill hasn't been found by then (he's in Smithwater Canyon, you fool!) I'll fly out from Switzerland to JTNP myself next year (during a cooler season) and check 'em out myself. Worst that can happen is that I find nothing, take some spectacular photographs, blister my feet, and then get eaten by a hungry pussy cat.

Ric

p.s. Very happy with my newly found BBCode fu that allows me to post fancy links to ACME Mapper.
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Postby Ric Capucho » Fri Jun 20, 2014 7:36 am

For those interested, Adam Marsland continues to do a great job scouring Upper Covington for Bill.

OtherHand JT66, 6/17/2014

Adam even gives *me* a brief mention, so at least someone's taking my half-baked theories half-seriously. Lord help us. But Adam's own ideas seem much better thought through.

Adam *did* find something a bit strange: a highly decomposed backpack or something about a half mile from the Upper Covington trailhead. Ahh, ignore me and go read the link above.

Ric
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More searches

Postby RichardK » Sun Aug 03, 2014 3:31 pm

Tom Mahood has made three more searches. Still no Bill.
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