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A dangerous, snowy journey as seven hikers get lost in Yosemite

A recent photo near Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park, in the general area where seven lost hikers were found July 1 by a wilderness law enforcement ranger who was on a routine backcountry patrol just before darkness.
A recent photo near Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park, in the general area where seven lost hikers were found July 1 by a wilderness law enforcement ranger who was on a routine backcountry patrol just before darkness. Sierra Star

On July 1, about an hour before sunset, a wilderness law enforcement ranger on a routine backcountry patrol encountered three separate parties, seven hikers total, all lost while facing oncoming darkness. They were in the Sunrise Pass area south of Tioga Road, in the general area of Tuolumne Meadows.

Although Tioga Road opened just two days before, many high country trails, including trail signs, remain covered in snow. All three parties discovered how challenging route finding is on snow buried trails and lost their way going to Clouds Rest and back. This trail is misconceived as an easier route, and some of the hikers had even done this trail before.

While lost, one party found another trail which they could not identify, and it didn’t lead to where they needed to go.

Through route finding efforts and cross-country travel, the ranger successfully lead the hikers to their destination, arriving at 11 p.m. By this time, one hiker was suffering from altitude sickness and another was asthmatic.

Although the trip occurred after darkness, only two of the hikers had headlamps and the ranger had to loan out his spares.

It was fortunate that a ranger in a vast backcountry happened across three lost parties. He was not looking for anyone specifically nor were there any reports of missing hikers as cell service is unpredictable in this area. Otherwise, searches would not have started at least until the following day, and this would have required numerous resources, at least one miserable night outside, and an outcome that could not be guaranteed.

Lessons learned

Traveling over snow-covered trails requires route finding skills. This includes carrying a detailed topographical map, compass (GPS optional), and, of course, mastery of these items.

Always have the ability to retreat or return to where you have come from by the same route. This requires you to remain aware of what’s behind you while hiking to your destination.

Few hikers intend to hike in the darkness but a headlamp, preferably two, and spare batteries, can be a game changer.

Hikers sometimes place rock cairns for their own reference. These are not official Park Service markers and they may or may not be accurate. Follow someone else’s markers at your own risk.

When in doubt, hike on well-defined trails until the high-country trails are snow free.

Help circulate the word to anyone who is thinking of hiking in the Tioga and Tuolumne areas.

As snow melts and creeks rise, conditions on trails will change dramatically in the coming weeks. The more you know, the better you can prepare yourself and visitors. For updating conditions on trails in Yosemite National Park, click here or visit www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildcond.htm.

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