Hiker who planned to summit Mount Whitney is missing. Search underway, information wanted

A search is underway to find a missing hiker who planned to summit Mount Whitney last week.

The rental vehicle of Ling Dao of Virginia was found in the Whitney Portal parking area. Search and rescue operations began Sunday, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.

People aware of Dao’s plans told the sheriff’s office that Dao, 41, planned to summit Mount Whitney on Wednesday and return to work in Virginia the following day after catching a red-eye flight from Las Vegas.

Mount Whitney, around 14,500 feet in elevation, is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. The iconic California peak lies on the boundary of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest.

Dao is described as 6-feet, 1-inches tall, weighing 160 pounds, and is believed to be carrying a Black Diamond ice ax and brightly-colored windbreaker and/or jacket.

“If anyone had contact with Mr. Dao after June 12 or may have seen him hiking along the Mt. Whitney trail, please contact the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office at 760-878-0383/option 4,” the sheriff’s office said.

Sheriff officials said they received several reports of hikers who either saw or spoke with Dao on June 12, “both at the summit and during his ascent.”

The sheriff’s office said the rental car company Dao used initially told them that his rental vehicle was returned Friday morning, and then later, Saturday morning. The sheriff’s office requested the vehicle description and license plate and found the vehicle on Saturday in the Whitney Portal parking area, near the peak’s trailhead.

The sheriff’s office said a search and rescue operation was started early Sunday and continued Monday.

“Ground team members from China Lake Mountain Rescue Group began a hasty search along the Mt. Whitney trail,” the sheriff’s office said. “Conditions in the back-country are still extremely snowy with significant challenges presented by snow instability, ice, and heavy runoff.”

The search is being aided by Sequoia and Kings National Park and “aerial reconnaissance” provided by California Highway Patrol.

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.