On the evening of Friday, Sept. 8, Inyo County Search and Rescue (SAR) received a call from an injured solo hiker just below Shepherd Pass, CA. He had attempted to ascend the pass, found the trail covered by a snowfield from last winter, and tried to cross the snow without crampons or an ice axe. He slipped, tumbled, lost about half of his gear, and eventually hit a rock wall that stopped the fall but also broke his leg.
- Related: Body of Hiker Without Mountaineering Boots, Crampons, or Helmet Recovered From Snowy Couloir on Aspen, CO, 14er
The patient’s location was at about 11,800 ft, 11 miles up a steep and only somewhat maintained “trail.”
Inyo SAR assembled a team in Bishop, drove to Lone Pine and met with H-80 from CHP – Inland Division Air Operations. Over the course of four flights, rescuers were inserted at Shepherd Pass, where they met with two rangers from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks just before midnight. After determining that crossing the snowfield was too dangerous even with the use of crampons and ice axes, they down climbed a steep chute from the pass to avoid the snow and ascend to the patient from the bottom of the slope.
The rescuers finally reached the patient at about 1 AM, found him mildly hypothermic, warmed him up and stabilized his injuries. The team and patient then hunkered down for a sleepless night, during which they experienced a thunderstorm, sleet, rain, snow and gusty winds.
As Saturday morning dawned, the patient was packaged into a SKED (a lightweight stretcher), then lowered away from the rock wall and into open terrain that would allow for a helicopter to approach. H-40 from CHP – Central Division Air Operations arrived at the scene at 8 am, hoisted the patient out safely, and transported him directly to the hospital in Lone Pine.
Inyo SAR parted ways with the rangers and started the descent into Shepherd Canyon in order to lose altitude. At around 10,500 ft elevation, the rescuers were picked up and shuttled to Lone Pine by H-40. The last rescuers were out of the field by 2 PM.
PLEASE don’t cross any snowfields without traction on your feet and an ice axe in hand. Our patient is lucky he survived to tell the story!
The 11-mile-long Shepherd Pass trail climbs a demanding 6,000 feet from the Owens Valley to 12,000-foot Shepherd Pass. Then, it enters Sequoia National Park and joins the John Muir Trail near Tyndall Creek. Due to a persistent snowfield, steep terrain and talus, the Shepherd Pass trail is frequently impassable above 10,800 feet.