At around 22:30 on 08/13/13, members of Inyo SAR were called out for a potential case of altitude sickness near the Outpost Camp on the South Fork Mt. Whitney trail. The reporting party was a family member at the trailhead, and further information quickly revealed that the subject was also missing. Despite the complexity of a nighttime search, two team members left the trailhead sometime after 01:00. After extensive discussion with the family members, it was decided to focus on the zone directly below Outpost Camp. While climbing to Trail Crest earlier that day, the subject had become increasingly disoriented and unable to safely continue climbing. She was escorted down by family members until she became disgruntled, nearly combative. Other hikers convinced her to follow them down. She followed them until Outpost Camp, where she went missing.
The search team cleared the trail up to Outpost, meeting numerous family members along the way. The family members, who had been awake for over 24 hours, were advised to return to Whitney Portal and rest. With no sign of the subject at Outpost Camp, the search was focused below an easily-missed turn in the trail, just below the camp. When people are lost, they tend to go downhill, and that’s where the team began to search. At 4:00am, the two team members made contact with the Sheriff Coordinator, requesting a search team. Then they decided to rest for a couple of hours and wait for additional resources.
The searchers awoke to yelling at sometime around 05:45 on 08/14/13. A woman, probably only 100 feet below, was shouting to a hiker. The rescuers rushed down the hill to find the subject walking around and talking to the hiker. Her mental status was altered, but she was alert and cooperative. After a thorough medical assessment by an EMT team member, the decision was made to place further resources on hold, and to begin helping the patient walk out. After small amounts of food and water, as well as a descent to the trailhead, the patient became relatively steady on her feet and increasingly oriented. Care was transferred to the Lone Pine Fire Department EMS crew, and she was transported to Southern Inyo Hospital.
Our rescuers were greeted, upon return to the trailhead, with thanks and praise from the patient’s family members. The inspiration our team gains from this kind of gratitude is immeasurable.