In the late evening of June 25, 2023, Inyo SAR received a call-out regarding a fatality on the North Face of University Peak (13,595 ft) near Kearsarge Pass, out of Independence, CA.
Earlier that day, two mountaineers were ascending the mountain when one decided conditions were too dangerous for his liking. He chose to wait in place while his partner kept going up toward the summit. When the second mountaineer failed to return, the first started looking for him and eventually found his partner sustained a fall over ice and rock. He could not reach his partner but determined he did not survive due to the distance and terrain over which he fell. Upon that discovery, he descended as far as was necessary to get cell service and called 911.
Due to the darkness, Inyo Sheriff’s Office and Inyo SAR made preparations to respond the following morning. 10 volunteer team members drove to Lone Pine Airport to meet with H-82, a helicopter from California Highway Patrol’s Inland Air Operations. Without an exact location, CHP conducted an initial search from the air. After about half an hour, they located the decedent off-route in fifth-class rock terrain, almost 1,000 feet below the point he was last seen. CHP transported 2 team members to the location and hoisted them down onto a ledge near the subject. After building an anchor for their own safety, the rescuers packaged the decedent and assisted CHP in hoisting him out.
The remaining team members moved to Onion Valley trailhead to stand by if more hands were needed. They assisted CHP in receiving the subject for the Inyo County Coroner’s Office, who also responded.
Finally, the rescuers on the mountain were hoisted back out from their ledge.
SnowBrains was on University Peak that day and saw this couple. Conditions on this clear, sunny day were corn higher up in complex terrain and steep and firm further down.
Our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased.
Remember, we are still far away from summer conditions. While we don’t know exactly what led to the fall, we can only urge people to be cautious while enjoying their adventures in the mountains.