Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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

Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Gerry » Mon Jan 18, 2016 8:48 pm

adamghost wrote:Here's a thought experiment.

Assume that this is a straight lost hiker scenario and not something more oddball. Then from there further assume the following two facts, that I think are likely given what we currently know:
1. Bill was less than 10.6 miles from the tower during the ping
2. Bill was not at Upper Covington Flat.

Operating on those assumptions alone, far and away the most likely place for Bill to be is the north side of Smith Water.

Can anyone come up with a reasonable scenario that puts Bill there? The topography is pretty daunting, and the only semi-reasonable way to get up there that I know of would be from a point well to the north of the Lower Covington trailhead from the road - in other words, Bill would leave the road to go up there, and he'd miss a ranger by a very narrow margin in so doing. Thoughts?


I have an alternate theory. I'll provide the overview first, so you can all quickly conclude that I'm full of it without reading the whole post. :D

Mr. Ewasko's plan is to visit the Johnny Lang mine and then proceed north through Johnny Lang Canyon. Once out of the canyon, his plan to head east toward the Park Road, then return south to his car. By the time he reaches the north end of the canyon, he has an emergency; either heat related or perhaps a leg injury. He decides to self-rescue by heading for the west entrance station by proceeding north/northwest. He gets as far as the hills close to the park road. (I'll post a map once I figure out how that works. )

This area has not been searched as far as I can tell. It is not covered by any of the searches on Otherhand's website. It is too far north to be on the map released by the feds in response to Otherhand's FOIA request, but it appears it may have been overflown by a helicopter once.

The investigators found directions or an itinerary in the rental car which suggests that Mr. Ewasko's plan was to enter the park through the west station. If that is how he entered the park, then he would have been aware of the location, as well as the fact it is manned until 5pm and that there is water there (at least according the park map).

At the location where he has exited Lang Canyon and decides to head north, he is actually closer to the entrance station than he is to his car. Also, if he had a right leg injury, he might not have been able to drive.

Weaknesses:

1. The area that I'm suggesting to search is close to the park road, is not difficult terrain, and has at least two well used trails through it. If he is here, he must have left the trails to find shelter, or tried an unused route through those hills.

2. The safest alternative once out the north end of Lang Canyon would have been to head straight for the Park Road, so he would have decided to self-rescue over a safer alternative.

3. The distance from the cell tower is less than 10.6 miles, but I don't personally think that alone rules out this theory. The Park Ranger who wrote the report quoted the Verizon tech as saying, more or less, "10.6 miles, or at least 90% of it." Factoring in a measurement error of 2.5%, I think the range is about 9.3 miles to 10.9 miles, which is more or less what a couple of other folks have suggested.

4. This theory doesn't explain the timing of the ping, as I'm suggesting Mr. Ewasko was probably stationary by the end of the first day.

I'll try to upload the map soon.

Gerry
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Gerry » Mon Jan 18, 2016 9:46 pm

Here is the map. I snipped it from the Park Service JT map, then edited using MS Paint.

Ewasko_Theory.PNG


Mr. Ewasko's planned route is in blue, his self-rescue route in purple, his final destination circled in green.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby OtherHand » Mon Jan 18, 2016 10:55 pm

Coming out of the mouth of Johnnie Lang Canyon you enter a large bowl or valley with flat, easy terrain. You're less than 1.5 miles from Park Road and cars are plainly visible driving on it. Heading toward the west entrance station would take you over a small mountain range. Someone in distress would just head for the road for assistance.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby adamghost » Sat Jan 23, 2016 3:33 am

Right...and we did have some discussion of this area a little bit upthread, if you look back a couple of pages you'll see it.

Myth - I have no problem with any scenario where a compass is wrong or Bill's disoriented or whatever because if this is what it appears to be, something weird did happen. The problem is simply the topography. The north side of SWC is just as bad, if not worse, as the south side; I'm pretty sure you've at least seen it, and I've gone up it all the way once and partway a second time. It's doable in spots, but it's pretty much straight up. So even if Bill had his compass wrong it's just hard for me to see him making that ascent. It's a bit better on the side facing the road going to Lower Covington, but it's not great, and of course, he's on the road there.

There's also a mileage problem. The known ping spots on the north side of SWC that are closest to 10.6 miles (but they're significantly closer to the tower than that) are the areas most proximate to the road, which have been looked at a good bit. If you go further east there's a huge area that hasn't been searched much....but at that point the 10.6 line crosses to the south side of SWC, which puts that area even more out of the probable range. So if Bill's in that unsearched eastern area, he's quite a bit closer to Serin than we would expect.

I don't think the mileage works, but I have a question for Tom: what's the approach in to the north side of SWC from Quail Wash north of the mouth of the canyon? Is it any less steep than the other areas? I seem to recall there was a more moderate approach right at the northeastern mouth of SWC. That's the closest I've ever come to that area myself.

I'm about ready to go out and take another look but I have absolutely no idea at this point where. If the newest information about the cell ping accuracy is correct, nothing other than UC fits the facts to me, and I think I've memorized that place at this point.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby OtherHand » Sat Jan 23, 2016 12:55 pm

From what I've seen there appears to be a fairly easy climb up along a spine on the NE mouth of Smith Water, travelling westerly. I've never done it but have been much higher up on that same spine, on the northerly canyon slopes, and it looked OK.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ric Capucho » Sat Feb 06, 2016 5:06 am

Couple of recent trip reports have popped up on Tom's website (otherhand.org).

Both Tom and Adam have independently turned their attentions to the upland areas north of Smithwater Canyon. Adam's JT81 trip report includes a link to a Youtube video, which gives a great insight into (a) where Adam's thinking is and (b) what the terrain up there looks like; in one word: rocky.

Most significantly, Adam got a good ping at 9.8 miles, in an area that I'd always considered shadowed from the Serin Tower. Not sure what people's thoughts are on whether a ping at 9.8 miles is too close or not to Serin when the original ping range was 10.6 miles.

Ric
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby rach » Thu Feb 18, 2016 3:13 pm

Hi all! I'ts good to see there is still interest and on going searches for Bill, would be so nice if he were found
I was just wondering, there are no public records of the objects found in Bill's car are there? apart from the directions to the parking area and a few other papers on his passenger seat.
There is a news report floating around, the one that says he told Mary he was so organized that he had brought 2 compasses (i know, news report, but why embelish *those* details?)
He tells her he has lunch and snacks for the day and 'plenty of water, plus more in his vehicle'
In the narrative on Tom's webpage, you can see there are at least items in the trunk of his car, but it's unclear what they are.
It's probably not even that big a deal, but if there is water in there, it might show he had really planned to hike that day (rather than plan to dissappear) and that he was probably organized and knowledgable enough to have more than 3 bottles of water with him, and could have lasted longer than is thought.
On the other hand, all it really proves is that Bill had a really good reason not to return to his car...
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ric Capucho » Fri Feb 19, 2016 2:13 am

rach wrote:Hi all! I'ts good to see there is still interest and on going searches for Bill, would be so nice if he were found
I was just wondering, there are no public records of the objects found in Bill's car are there? apart from the directions to the parking area and a few other papers on his passenger seat.
There is a news report floating around, the one that says he told Mary he was so organized that he had brought 2 compasses (i know, news report, but why embelish *those* details?)
He tells her he has lunch and snacks for the day and 'plenty of water, plus more in his vehicle'
In the narrative on Tom's webpage, you can see there are at least items in the trunk of his car, but it's unclear what they are.
It's probably not even that big a deal, but if there is water in there, it might show he had really planned to hike that day (rather than plan to dissappear) and that he was probably organized and knowledgable enough to have more than 3 bottles of water with him, and could have lasted longer than is thought.
On the other hand, all it really proves is that Bill had a really good reason not to return to his car...



Hi rach, and welcome to the obsession!

I've also spent quite some time looking at those rather poorly reproduced images in the Narrative. My inconclusive conclusions are:

1. The written directions on the back of the receipt suggests that he received those directions *after* he stopped at the store for his supplies. And the receipt looks quite long, so I wonder if he bought a bunch of stuff that morning.

2. There are other papers on the passenger seat. One looks like the corner of a webpage printout, and if I squint hard I see it as a typical hiking trip report or whatever. I for one would *love* to know which trip (if I'm right) is printed out. A proper resolution image would likely give us enough clues to identify it, I'm almost certain.

3. Another A4 sized paper looks handwritten, and as the Narrative makes it clear there's no itinerary in the car, then it could be anything... but I'd take a guess that it's a shopping list.

4. The open trunk of the car made me pause for thought when I first looked at it. People store stuff in their cars all the time; for example the trunk of my wife's car usually looks like a cross between a chicken shed and a junk yard. But Bill flew into LAX on the Wednesday, and started out on his hike the very next morning. The stuff we see in the trunk looks loose, apart from that big box... and rental cars have empty trunks, so Bill put everything you can see in there. But I for one wouldn't want my food supplies for the week to sit spoiling in a car trunk during a hot desert summer's day... So I'm almost sure the trunk contains a large cool box.

Well, conjecture I know, but if that truly is a cool box then I for one would have spent the first few days obsessing about it, its contents, and how to drag myself towards it. All in all, it remains baffling why Bill would go anywhere else than towards his car in the event of an emergency.

Ric

p.s. Squinting again, I think that there's a second smaller box (darker material) next to the more obvious large white box with the carrying strap.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby rach » Fri Feb 19, 2016 4:20 am

Hi Ric, Thanks I wish I could say it was a new obsession!
You make good points, the receipt would also say a time when the items were purchased. I wonder if he bought the apples and salami snacks mentioned when he bought the water.
There are so many bits of paper with possible clues in there it would be interesting to see what they all said!

I thought the same as you about the trunk items, it's a rental car and he's staying at his friends condo. The suitcases and un necessary items would have been placed in the condo to make way for the possible cool box and mysterious smaller dark box (I didn't originally see it as that, but yes it does appear to be a box of some sort too)

While I'm here rambling I figured I'd talk about something else I haven't seen mentioned
Ken and Helen
A short search turned up a husband and wife team who were hike leaders for the Coachella Valley hiking club. They don't seem to be on the list of leaders anymore. Seems the club lists their planned hikes for that quarter and you register your interest about a week and a half before. They also blog their hikes and interestingly nothing is in the blog for june and july of 2010. I guess Bill wrote it down as something he was interested in but never contacted Ken or Helen as they had no hikes planned during the time he was there and would explain why Ken doesn't know who he is.

There is also this article http://www.hidesertstar.com/news/articl ... 3ce6c.html which is all fine and good, what jumps out is the very matter of factly put 'The lost hiker had a compass but no map of the area'. is there any truth to that? Could it be that Bill started with a map of Quail mountain only, got turned around and confused, and ended up lost near SWC desperately trying to find his way out? I guess there's probably a bunch of information floating around that's untrue, but I'm not sure where they got that idea. It would explain a few things though...

And the last thing that bothers me (almost as much as Ranger Grayson missing Bills car 4 times..) Bill is noted as loving JTNP, and having hiked there many, many times. Where does he usually go? seems at least a few places on his list are new to him. I wonder if he'd had any troubles before and how he went all those other times
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby adamghost » Fri Feb 19, 2016 11:09 am

Hi Rach...

The thing about the map is significant (if true) because it's very hard to understand how Bill does not get himself rescued, even if injured, if he's anywhere near the 10.6 mile line and knows where he is (because that puts him through the wilderness and nearly out the other side so theoretically, all he has to do is hang out and wait). But it's hard to imagine anyone embarking on a hike like that without some sort of a map.
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