On Thursday, April 15, Saulo Sifuentes Escalante, a 36-year-old man from Conroe, TX, arrived at Whitney Portal with intentions of hiking Mount Whitney as a day climb. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received notification on Sunday, April 18 that he was overdue.
Inyo County Search and Rescue responded and searched the area unsuccessfully Monday, April 19 with the assistance of CHP Inland Air Operations helicopter H80. On April 20, twelve Search and Rescue members were inserted by an Army Chinook helicopter, with teams distributed from the summit down to Mirror Lake. Kings Canyon National Park was also involved since the search area included the west side of Mount Whitney, which is in the Park.
At approximately 11 am on April 20 Kings Canyon officials notified Inyo County Sheriff’s Office that they had obtained a search warrant to review cell phone data records and that had revealed a potential location for the subject. A Chinook helicopter was dispatched to investigate the location and was able to locate the subject deceased south of the main Whitney trail at approximately 11,600’ elevation in a steep, snowy, north-facing chute. The subject had apparently been ascending this chute when he slipped and fell.
It has not yet been reported what equipment he had with him during his hike. The National Park Service advises being familiar with ice axes and crampons if hiking Mt. Whitney in the springtime.
The Chinook was able to move a team of rescuers to a landing zone 1,200’ below the site. Rescuers were able to access the site via a steep snow climb and were able to assist in the recovery of Mr. Escalante late in the afternoon, by using a hoist into the Chinook.
Assisting agencies include Inyo Search and Rescue, Inyo Sheriff, China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, and Kings Canyon National Park. Aerial assistance was provided by CHP, China Lake Naval Weapons Station, and Army National Guard.
Mount Whitney (Paiute: Too-man-i-goo-yah) is the tallest 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 ft 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 mi from Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The eastern slopes are in Inyo National Forest in Inyo County.