A man fell to his death on Mount Whitney, CA, last week while on a five-day, four-night trip in the backcountry during the biggest storms of the winter so far.
Eric Goepfert, 50, was reported missing by his wife when he failed to return on Friday December 17th as planned.
On December 18, Inyo search and rescue members located Goepfert’s rental vehicle at the trailhead. CHP Inland Division helicopter H-80 conducted aerial searching with an Inyo SAR member on board. They located Goepfert’s Garmin inReach device and a trekking pole near the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges (a 200-foot third class ledge system that is part of the North Fork trail).
CHP Valley Division helicopter H-20 also conducted a search in the same area using a RECCO device (a harmonic radar system that detects passive reflector chips in certain outdoor clothing brands and electronics). The RECCO detected a faint signal near the found items. A CHP pilot was lowered via hoist cable to the location but did not find any further clues.
On December 19, 14 Inyo SAR members continued search efforts. CHP H-80 inserted four SAR members at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges, while other members hiked up from the trailhead. SAR members used an avalanche probe to locate Goepfert’s body under deep snow at the base of the ledges, directly below his inReach and trekking pole.
Through investigation, it is believed Goepfert was experiencing headache and nausea (symptoms of acute mountain sickness, or AMS). This, coupled with a heavy winter pack and the severe storm conditions, likely caused Goepfert to fall about 30 feet to the base of the ledges on December 14.
Goepfert served in the US Army from the age of 18 and was an active Army Reservist.
According to Wikipedia, Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation of 14,505 feet. It is in East–Central California, on the boundary between California’s Inyo and Tulare counties, 84.6 miles west-northwest of North America’s lowest point, Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, at 282-feet below sea level. The mountain’s west slope is in Sequoia National Park and the summit is the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail, which runs 211.9-miles from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The eastern slopes are in Inyo National Forest in Inyo County.