Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

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

Postby Myth » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:50 pm

Quick trip report.

First off, our route ended up being way different than anticipated. My husband injured his leg on Thursday and that slowed us down a lot. He insisted on going, though. He also insisted on visiting Lang Mine and Quail mountain, so instead of going in from the NE and looping back, we went in from the SE, swung past Lang Mine, chugged up Quail Mountain, slithered down the NW slopes, tumbled into a sandy wash with enough space to stay the night, and set out for the cell coverage area the next day. We didn't have a lot of time up there, unfortunately. We've since talked it over and we're planning on returning in early March & sticking to a real game plan this time!

Here's some pictures to give an idea of terrain. First, my husband contemplates the wash leading to Lang Mine. This terrain is typical of washes we encountered on our trip.

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View from Quail Mountain. If it is 90 degrees out and you just chugged up a steep ridge, would you say "onward!" or would you say "back to my car!" ?

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Our home for the night. Henry Shires makes an excellent product. Our tent sleeps three, though in our case it sleeps two who like their room, and also their packs, boots, etc. Note the snow on the slope. It was Really. Quite. Cold. I estimate it got down to 26 or 25 that night. Thank goodness our sleeping bags zipped together. Tent condensation froze inside and out.

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We found loads of these antlers: five or six different ones.

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The closer we got to the cell area, the more snow on the ground.

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Washes offer an easy route to a point. These 5-foot waterfalls were not uncommon. If you have a compromised leg, I don't see how you hop down too many of these.

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Representative of the slopes south of the cell coverage area. Rugged. Hiking poles and boots with good tread seemed essential.

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The cell area contains loads of jumbled rock piles with what seems like good shelter from the elements. I peered into around a dozen of these, with no success.

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Big Horn leftovers. There was another cream-colored long bone nearby, but it all seems to be from the same sheep - definitely not human. To make sure, I spent time poking around the area and didn't find a trace of anything interesting, apart from the usual dead Mylar balloons.

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Another apparent good afternoon shelter spot:

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And another:

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This is our descent back into the flats. We crab-walked down the shiny rock and we also had to drop packs and hand them down for a while. These slopes are not for anybody other than the able-bodied. Smith Water Canyon is worse. I peered down into it and sounded a hearty "No way!"

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Gazing to the side on the descent. Even steeper and scarier in person.

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Quick & dirty trip overview. The grey track at the bottom is day 1, the red track is day 2. The grey above the red is from an older trip, only noticed after I already uploaded the screen cap!

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Postby OtherHand » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:57 pm

Too late, I looked. Those pictures are giving me flashbacks and setting off my Smith Water PTSD....
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Postby Myth » Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:20 pm

I don't think I fully appreciated terrain you can't fall off of until I finally planted two feet level with each other at Quail Springs! You are a braver soul than me, actually taking on Smith Water!

At times I had to rely fully on the thread of my boots or the sturdiness of my hiking poles. Mostly I concentrated on the next step down and tried to forget how much slope was left to cover. Yiyiyiyi. We did take care to make sure we wouldn't cliff out - we didn't go down anything we couldn't clamber back up ... unless we thought we wouldn't need to clamber back up. But you do roll the dice that your luck will hold no matter how careful you try to be.
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Postby drndr » Thu Feb 14, 2013 8:39 am

Nice pics. I've done your first days hike past Lang mine and on to Quail and enjoyed it. Of course mine was a day hike and had less gear.

When it warms up I would like to do a car camp at Hidden Valley and then with a very light daypack hit those slopes 2 days in a row and check some of those nooks and crannies. That would make it much easier without having to haul a big pack.
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time"
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Postby Myth » Thu Feb 14, 2013 4:46 pm

drndr wrote:Nice pics. I've done your first days hike past Lang mine and on to Quail and enjoyed it. Of course mine was a day hike and had less gear.

When it warms up I would like to do a car camp at Hidden Valley and then with a very light daypack hit those slopes 2 days in a row and check some of those nooks and crannies. That would make it much easier without having to haul a big pack.


I greatly enjoy the solitude of camping in the backcountry, and my husband is allergic to car camping after a few unfortunate incidents with camp neighbors. I guess we're both kind of hermit-y!

I do think it will be easier to search this area on a day hike. It is a big bonus to not have to scramble with a full pack on. If you want to cover ground, you'll scramble from time to time.

In fact, I think when we return in March, this time following the plan I want to follow !! , we'll either go there, drop packs in a flat area, and spend the rest of the day and the next morning exploring with day packs only, or we might just do a day trip in the area.

The one thing you may find is that the slope into the area isn't particularly fun to tackle two days in a row. It depends on the exact route, of course. OtherHand, our resident expert, can no doubt provide advice as to the easiest route up!

Lang Mine and Quail was fun, but Quail was really, really cold. Temps had dropped into the mid-thirties when we got up there. Cold, like heat, can sap your strength.
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Postby Ellen » Thu Feb 14, 2013 6:54 pm

Howdy Myth :)

Fabulous trip report and pictures -- thanks so much 8)

Miles of smiles,
Ellen

PS Agree with the difficulty of scrambling over rocks with a full backpack :roll:
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Postby zippetydude » Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:49 pm

Wow, that steep, huh? I know what you mean about the thought of getting cliffed out when you're in unfamiliar terrain, kinda adds an element of tension. Nice pics. They make it easy to appreciate how likely it would be to walk right past something, within even just a few feet, and never be able to see it. Thanks for the cool post.

z
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Postby RichardK » Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:18 pm

Myth wrote:If it is 90 degrees out and you just chugged up a steep ridge, would you say "onward!" or would you say "back to my car!" ?

These 5-foot waterfalls were not uncommon. If you have a compromised leg, I don't see how you hop down too many of these.

Representative of the slopes south of the cell coverage area. Rugged. Hiking poles and boots with good tread seemed essential.

These slopes are not for anybody other than the able-bodied. Smith Water Canyon is worse. I peered down into it and sounded a hearty "No way!"




Myth - Thank you for a super report!

I found your comments quoted above to be very informative. How far could anyone travel in that terrain with an injury so bad that they could not just hobble back to their car? How far can you travel if you are limited to crawling and butt-sliding? Once Bill was injured, it doesn't look like he would be able to move any significant distance at all.

The conclusion is that Bill was injured around the 10.6 mile cell phone arc. The problem that presents is why was he 2 miles past his intended target of Quail Mtn. Was he searching for water, looking for an epic hike, lost, or what???
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Postby OtherHand » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:00 pm

Filled in some blank spots yesterday within our and Myth's tracks in the SE Smith Water vicinity. Oh, and went down the last, unchecked chute into Smith Water. What special fun that was. Found yet another Big Horn skeleton, but no Bill. The amount of uncleared area in SE Smith Water has gotten rather small. I'll try and get the report up by the end of the weekend after the hurt stops.
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Postby Myth » Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:28 pm

Ellen - this trip was really fun, despite the oh-my-gosh-what-have-I-gotten-into moments that the topography in this area loves to induce! Rock scrambling is a no-event when unencumbered, but when your shape has been extended by a pack, it becomes .. fun. Is that the right word? I'm not sure it is the right word. ;) I was glad to be wearing my ULA pack, which has a more compact profile than my Osprey. My poor husband bottomed out on rocks a lot more than I did. His pack is kind of long. Mine fits between my hips and my head.

zippetydude - yeah, this was pretty steep in places! Dang, the terrain would really creep up on you sometimes. You'd notice the near horizon getting kinda … abbreviated … and know fun is about to occur. You're right about the element of tension! I can imagine being alone in this area and being aware that no-one knows you're here … in our case, we had the redundancy of each other, plus people back home knowing we should be calling from outside the park ( in two days time, but still!! ), PLUS a PLB. And I still had moments of "be still, my heart". Some parts of the terrain really had me realize that you could pass by 4 or 5 feet away from Bill, and not know he's there. You have to kind of trust that you are on the easiest route, due to your observation of the area, and that he would have taken that route, too, had he been there. Sometimes, the choice was simple: if I go down this rock, can I climb back up? If the answer was no, we found another rock to climb of off. I can't vouch that Bill would have made the same decision, but we had to make that decision.

RichardK - I value my trip out there because it really changes my perspective. Google Maps and satellite doesn't tell you how grim the terrain can be! With the terrain this stern, I struggle to think that anybody with an injury would not attempt to return to familiar terrain, and their vehicle if possible. Depending on the route you take ( we took the hard way ) you might be able to cover a fair bit of terrain when injured, in the more southern parts of the terrain. We didn't take a whole lot of "sensible" saddles and ridges, instead cutting across everything. We bobbed in and out of washes. I'll tell you this: if you've descended into a wash with a severe injury, you're probably going to struggle mightily to get out of it. Where we went, the washes had quite steep banks. You're not going to drag yourself out of too many of these.

In general, the terrain consisted of rather soft earth, boulders and bushes. Up in the hills, not too many of the bushes had thorns. That changes in the big washes, down on the flats. There, everything wants to snag you. The soft earth makes climbing up difficult, and climbing down easier. The rocks and bushes are best detoured around.

If I was reduced to crawling and butt-sliding, in July, with little water, I don't see myself moving more than two miles or so, taking a lot of time and frequent rests, before being exhausted anyway. Depending on terrain of course - maybe I'd be able to go longer if I was on a good ridge, or going downhill. The upper torso and upper limbs are not conditioned to moving the whole of the body along in your typical individual. And all downhill wants to be paid for in uphill.

In general, I have to agree that it makes more sense if Bill was injured somewhere around the 10.6 mile arc, if that is what stopped him - and I don't have any theories for anything else, unless he became lost and decided to stay put and wait for rescue until it was too late. If you've seen Smith Water Canyon, you'd get some ideas for how he could have gotten injured. The trouble with that is, he needs to be at the top of the canyon, not partway down, for the cell ping …

OtherHand - having suffered the "I can't even think about this until the hurt stops" myself in only a single instance, I understand you taking your time! I take my hat off to your sense of, uhm, fun? that you actually went down that chute! If it was anything like the slopes I saw, you might want to get your sense-o-fun recalibrated just a tad. ;) Was it another beast of a chute, with jumbled rocks and a host of hard-to-see-into crannies? Those are the best kind.
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