Despite the evening callout, most members were relieved to find out that it was a rare daytime mission for the next morning. Team members were to assemble at the Posse Hut at 0700 on January 11 and to be prepared for a search for a missing 18 year old male last seen two days previously near Whitney Portal. We were told that the missing person had little to no mountain experience, had been wearing jeans, and was not carrying a tent or a map. The missing person and his partner had separated soon after starting up the trail.
A small team assembled earlier in the morning to create a search plan and assignments before the field teams arrived. All four vehicles headed down to Lone Pine, along with the Snowcat. The search base set up at LP Airport while the field teams made their way up the Portal Road, navigating through fallen boulders and ice on the road to a point where vehicular travel was no longer feasible. A hasty team headed up the trail while other teams searched likely areas lower down, including the Point Last Seen. The team found several clues along the way, but at around 1300 hours the hasty team spotted the victim in the snow about a hundred feet off the trail, below Outpost Camp, frozen and lacking any signs of life.
The sheriff deputy joined the team on the mountain and all team members hiked to the victim to aid in the carry out. The team placed the victim in a sled and began the task of sliding him down the trail. Three hours later the team arrived at the trailhead and was met by the snowcat to assist in the remaining carry down to the vehicles, where the coroner waited to take custody of the victim.
While this mission was an excellent example of team cohesiveness and search planning, the outcome for the victim was regrettable and tragic. This unfortunate incident highlights some important lessons for the mountaineer or wilderness explorer. Proper preparation, current knowledge of the conditions and terrain, and knowing your limits and partner’s limits are all essential to returning from the mountains safely to share your story. Never leave your partner.