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 RichardK » Thu Nov 21, 2019 4:39 pm

I didn't mean that Bill's fate was identical to Claire Nelson's. There are many ways to be injured in the backcountry. If Bill crawled under a rock pile for shelter or fell into a pile of rocks or whatever so that he is well out of sight, then that explains why all the searches were fruitless.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby zippetydude » Thu Nov 21, 2019 10:33 pm

As an aside that is more about humanity than any particular search, I think that this thread reveals two important things that have nothing to do with Ewasko.

First, we all have a profoundly and wonderfully pronounced desire to take care of one another. Even years later, this thread continues, and even though the focus has shifted (from saving Bill to helping his family find closure) the bottom line is that we take care of each other. I find this the best and truest part of humanity.

The second is just as pronounced, but much less lauded. We are all curious creatures. Curious as ... well, I bet you wish I would have finished that phrase, you curious human. It kills us not to find closure, to not find a clear and precise answer to what happened.

That is why this case has over 385000 views, well over a third of a million. Because we all reach out, we are all concerned and willing to spend our own time and resources to help, and our minds simply can't rest on a subject unless we can find a solution.

So, perhaps someone will somehow solve this baffling case. I'm the lowest on the totem pole here, I've seen monumental efforts, sustained efforts, and so far nothing but failed efforts. Hat's off to all who have searched, to those have theorized, and those who have merely followed along hoping for a resolution. Our very nature is revealed in situations like this.

And I admit there is a third motive on my shallow, egocentric part...I would love to be the one who found him. But that's just me.

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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ed » Fri Nov 22, 2019 8:43 am

I am in awe of the effort that has gone into this case, by so many people on this discussion board. The fact that it has not so far yielded closure only makes me more in awe of it.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby adamghost » Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:08 am

Checking the thread biannually as I am wont to do.

As someone who is officially out of ideas (and some of the ones I've put forward have been critiqued fairly here), if everyone on this board could parachute into Joshua Tree and search just one area, where would it be?
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Myth » Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:17 am

I would head for the area between Quail Mountain and Smith Water Canyon, despite how thoroughly it's been searched. I'll hike there but the parachute can bring me a bunch of water so I can stay up there for a few days and thoroughly search every boulder pile. I know the area is very well searched and I know that isn't the most intriguing choice, but I think the most obvious area is the most likely one.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby AlM » Tue Dec 24, 2019 6:23 pm

The question has been asked, does law enforcement know anything we don't?

The answer is yes, they know whether or not they find Ranger Grayson to be credible.

His claim of not seeing any car at the trailhead is pretty outlandish and would have been reviewed again and again, from all possible angles. If Grayson was trying to cover up malfeasance of duty (e.g., never having bothered to go and check at all), his questioners would have a very strong sense of that. On the other hand, if he provided a consistent and convincing story, that's quite different.

My feeling is, if Grayson was found to be credible, then the most likely answer is that Bill staged his disappearance. Yes, one can imagine a narrative consistent with Grayson's story and a tragic accident, but it takes a lot of imagination. On the other hand, a staged disappearance with some related snags (such as miscommunications with an accomplice) would be much more consistent with Grayson's story.

Sorry to be potentially defaming Bill here. I have no more idea of what happened than anyone else. But I don't think the possibility should be ignored.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby MidwestArmchair » Wed Dec 25, 2019 6:11 am

I come back to Ewasko about twice a year, right on schedule. In the parachute hypothetical that's been posed, I'm going with a however-improbable scenario and sticking with my theory that he went east toward Ryan Mountain instead of west toward Quail Mountain. Ewasko's itinerary had Crown Prince Lookout, Lucky Boy Vista, and Johnny Lang Canyon bracketed with Quail Spring Picnic Area as the related area of the park. I'm reading that as he planned to undertake an ambitious loop - and I think that's what he attempted.

He parked at Juniper Flats parking area, deviating from his itinerary/plan of Quail Spring, hence the written directions to the parking area. He planned to head east around Ryan Mountain on the CRHT, to Crown Prince Vista, then up to Lucky Boy/Queen Mine via Geology Tour Road, and then to Johnny Lang Canyon. Ignore Johnny Lang Canyon. It's not about Johnny Lang Canyon. After finishing up at Lucky Boy/Queen Mine, Ewasko detoured through Wonderland of Rocks to refill his water bottles at Barker Dam. He got off trail, got into trouble in the Wonderland area, and ended up turned around in the mazes. My monopoly money is on that area south of Indian Cove and a mere 2.5 miles outside the accepted ping radius. It looks like it's never been searched, so I'd parachute there in this comfortable hypothetical.

Happy holidays, all.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Myth » Fri Dec 27, 2019 11:43 am

I have notched about 100 jaunts into JTNP and its backcountry over the past decade. I've long since lost track of the exact count.

Against that backdrop and my knowledge of walking in the Park and its terrain, a loop as described would be near impossible in practice, though it definitely would look good on paper to someone who loved the area but didn't visit it often, a description I believe fitted Bill. That is a lot of miles to walk after a late start and the terrain is not flat. It is tiring to dip into and out of dozens of little washes, slog through sandy areas, and the like.

If you park at Juniper Flats, you're in one of the more densely vegetated portions of JTNP. It may not look that way from satellite view but those Joshua Trees give the impression of crowding around. That makes one naturally want to follow a trail. Juniper Flats to Quail Mountain is one obvious route from that parking area. The CRHT does head out towards Ryan Mountain from there as well but is a little less obvious.

Geology Tour Road is a hard-packed dirt road in its upper reaches. The CRHT is a pleasant walk heading towards GTR, but once you reach GTR it is an unappealing slog up that road, to a busy part of the Park. To reach Queen Mine / Lucky Boy, you have a couple miles up a well-graded dirt road, followed by a fairly short trail. All in all not a particularly appealing walk. Now, it is possible that Bill chose not to drive a dirt road in his rental and so thought he'd walk in to Queen Mine. Instead of taking such a huge walk to get there he could have parked in pull-outs close to the dirt road or in the parking lot for GTR just across the main drag. ( I've done this myself before when the road to Queen Mine was closed due to flooding ).

How about walking from Queen Mine to Barker Dam? As it turns out I've done that, too. There are dirt roads, or you can go overland. I've done both. ( The dirt road to the Queen Mine parking lot is better graded than the ones across the valley, which is why I parked there and then walked. This was back in my 2WD days ) The dirt roads can be sandy, making them tiring to walk on, and overland means a lot more of those little micro-scrambles that can wear you out. But it is doable, if a rather tiring walk. None of this walking happens in the remote backcountry, by the way. That part of the Park doesn't "feel" remote at all. You're right there in the bustle, though in summer 2010 JTNP was a lot less busy than it is now.

Finally, if you do reach Barker Dam from that walk, the big parking lot is can't-miss, and the trail to Barker Dam is well-marked and well-traveled. You cannot easily stray into the Wonderland from this trail because of how the topography is. ( The Park prefers trails in areas where tourists can be well-confined. Trails like the Maze Loop where Orbeso was lost are more recent, more open additions. Barker Dam is about as close to Disney World as JTNP gets! ) There is a dicey bit once you're west past the dam where the terrain opens out into rock piles so you could stray a bit, but the trail is well marked and that area is always packed with climbers and the like - not really somewhere you can be lost for 9 years.

Another thing about Barker Dam - it doesn't always have water in it. Also, the Park prohibits visitors from gathering water anywhere in the Park - Barker Dam, Smith Water Canyon ... it is all off limits. A visitor planning a hike and reading some information should discover this.

Incidentally, I've been all over the Wonderland of Rocks. It is often described as being maze-like, but it isn't that bad. ( Disclaimer: if you are inexperienced in backcountry overland travel or have a bad sense of direction it could be very bad indeed ) And it isn't deserted, either. Every wash has footprints, even way in deep where you have to scramble to reach. So while it wasn't searched for Bill specifically, that I know of, it is still well-traveled. Lots of rock climbers and explorers go through there every year.

As for why my money is still on the expected search area, let's turn to Paul Miller's case. ... onal-park/

Robinson told CTV News the family passed within 21 yards of the location where the remains were later discovered during one of their multiple ground searches.

It really is that easy to walk practically right by someone and not see them in JT's back country. That's why I still think Bill is somewhere in one of the many, many tiny unsearched areas between Quail Mountain and Smith Water Canyon. You only need two or three yards to be hidden on the other side of a rock, or half-covered on the far side of a juniper or creosote.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby MidwestArmchair » Fri Dec 27, 2019 1:20 pm

Fair enough. Thanks for the detailed reply. It sounds disingenuous to say that and then write so many paragraphs afterward, and I don't mean it to come across that way. I'll likely never be able to step foot in JTNP, which kinda creates vicarious pent-up energy with this Ewasko mystery. I also kinda feel like a serial contrarian teacup dog barking at the big dogs and trying to play ball, haha. I respect all of those who have put boots on ground looking for Ewasko, and I take that expertise and experience for every last bit of weight it's worth.

For whatever it's worth, which is likely not much, here's my rationale for my "parachute theory": The information Ewasko objectively provided on his itinerary, plus where he parked, equally points toward either a Quail Mountain hike or an attempt at his planned Lookout/Vista/Lang loop hike (“LVL loop,” for brevity). As impossible or ill-advised as the LVL loop seems, he planned to do it, on paper. No conclusive evidence has been found to establish Ewasko on or near Quail Mountain that day. It seems, to me, more than improbable that Ewasko missed the SAR plus numerous self-rescue points, and the SAR missed Ewasko, and no sign of Ewasko has been found in the Quail Mountain/SWC/Covington areas in 9+ years (no trash, no gear scatter, no bone scatter - he was ostensibly moving on Sunday and likely perceived the SAR efforts but went to ground that thoroughly?).

My parachute theory remains this: he saw Crown Prince Lookout from Lost Horse Mine that morning and decided to go for the loop hike. He underestimated how much water he needed. Just like with the SWC theory, he detoured to Wonderland for water, however illegal. Barker Dam WAS dry that day (theorizing), and so he went up toward the westerly dams, rather than end his hike for the day. Both westerly dams are near Quail Spring Picnic Area, so it looked like a "safe" option if water was not available. If this was going to be his last hike of the day, he wanted it to be in the backcountry, so he took a wash north, rather than going down to Queen Mine Road to Hidden Valley Road. The southwesterly dam was dry, so he tried for the northwesterly dam, took a wrong wash, got lost trying to get back on track, and ended up southerly of the canyons that separate Indian Cove from Wonderland. A lot of the washes up that way appear to be dead-ends in unhappy terrain, but there are bits of Verizon cell coverage within believable range of the ping radius. There also appear to be endless spots with bushes, trees, dense foliage, and shaded crevices.

How would a guy like Ewasko make those kind of mistakes and end up so lost in a well-traveled area? On his itinerary, Ewasko listed Indian Cove as an area related to Quail Mountain and Lost Horse Mine. Given that (and his planned LVL loop hike), it's questionable if he knew the park or his maps as well as suspected.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby Ric Capucho » Sun Dec 29, 2019 1:36 am

I’ve long suspected that the right hand column of Bill’s itinerary specifies the topo map that properly covers the particular area, hence the seemingly random mention of Indian Cove.

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