Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby cmitchelli » Wed Mar 17, 2021 4:30 pm

Hi Perry -

Tomorrow will be my first time, going to try the Stubbe Spring area.

As far as cell reception going from nothing to strong, its my understanding that Bill turned his phone off after calling his fiancée on Thursday morning. I think that was the conclusion based on no more pings between then and the Sunday morning ping.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby RichardK » Sat Mar 20, 2021 6:28 am

Hi cmitchelli, I am sorry to be the one to throw cold water on your theory, but it is pure speculation with no evidence. Bill's written itinerary did not include the Maze Loop. He could have added it in place of something else, but he equally also could have not. His car was parked at the Quail Mountain trailhead. His itinerary included Quail Mountain. Where did Bill hike? How about Quail Mountain? As for what Bill was doing between 9 and 10:30AM, how about Lost Horse Mountain. It was on Bill's list and was close to where his car was found. Note that the Maze Loop area has been searched twice recently. It was searched in July, 2017, for the missing couple Joseph Orbeso and Rachel Nguyen. It was searched again in March, 2018, for Paul Hanks. No Bill in either case. Could Bill have lost his phone? Maybe or maybe not. Toss a coin. I would hope if anyone found a phone, they would not toss it back. Phones are expensive and likely contain personal information. Please take it to park headquarters. I think most hikers would. Good luck on your search.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:23 pm

I'm back from both of my trips. I saw the somewhat rare on foot sighting of a mountain lion, but no Bill.

On my first trip, I searched the southerly portions of the mountains between Upper and Lower Covington. This area checks the mark when it comes to being remote...absolutely no signs of footprints within any washes. Yet, it has probably gone unsearched because it lacks Serin Tower cell reception. Full disclosure...I had previously planned to hike the mountains between Keys View Road and Stubbe Springs until someone on this forum wisely talked me out of it. It is wise that I not completely disregard the cell phone ping. I know a few people on this forum believe he is still between Quail and SWC. I now have to agree with that assumption. Not only are there three zones of cell reception from the Serin Tower, but there are remote areas as well. On all future trips, I will be focused within this area. Hopefully, however, someone finds him before then. I'm convinced he's out there. It's just a matter of time. The important thing is that he is found, but I'm sure we are all very curious as to why his cell phone only pinged once and three days after he set out on his hike. It's very mysterious. I'm sure where he is found will shed light on that.

As for my second trip, I hiked up the eastern slope between Quail and SWC, trying to cover ground in between previously laid tracks. I realized that I would only have the stamina for one more high elevation hike before leaving two days later. That was not to be...I arrived to find I had a flat tire. What a bummer! It was late in the day, so I made the decision to hike in a mile from the road (close to the bottom of Samuelson Mountain). If not for the flat, I would unquestionably be camping while parked at a backcountry board. I spent all of the next day dealing with the flat. I was very fortunate that my car was parked in an area where I could actually get calls out. On Sunday, I did a lower elevation hike before driving six hours to Tucson. I simply couldn't see myself hiking Quail then doing that. I still hiked 12 miles, but that's far less taxing than an 8 mile Quail hike. It was on this hike that I saw the mountain lion for about 2 seconds. As I was approaching one of the islands of rock outcroppings in Quail Springs, I spotted one curiously checking me out from a hill of rocks directly in front of the larger outcropping. Within two seconds, it turned and disappeared behind the rocks. I walked straight to there, hoping to get another look but, unsuprisingly, it was nowhere to be seen. I made sure I didn't smell the stench of death because I knew walking up on one of it's kills could spell trouble for me.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to return to JT until December because of school and work commitments. I still have at least a few years of searching for Bill ahead of me, unless he is found prior. The only disappointment every time is in not finding him. All the rest are positives. I love my time getting away from home for a bit and searching in JT. I plan to make two trips yearly, from here on out. Probably a one week vacation and a four day weekend between November and March.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Wed Mar 31, 2021 4:44 pm

cmitchelli...welcome. I have been out to JT 8 times now and have produced tracks both near and far from the 10.6 mile arc from the Serin Tower. My current feeling is that Bill is within or fairly close to one of the cell zones between Quail and SWC. There are a few people on this forum who would agree. He would obviously be in a place that is incredibly remote...remote even for that entire area. I was on a small section of the eastern slope of Quail this last trip and thought to myself that it could be possible that I was the only one to walk there within a decade. Within a minute, I found a Smartwater bottle that had a best by date of October 2022 (I placed it in my pack to discard later). Clearly, someone else had been there within the last half year.

As for how far Bill got after the cell phone ping...I doubt very far. The only way he would have achieved a favorable distance is if he had located water. I got lost in the Gila Wilderness of NM back in 2008. After two cold sleepless nights, I got separated from the person I was with and decided to hike level ground in a fight for my life. Finding a mud puddle 20 minutes in gave me a tremendous boost. Suddenly, I could move with some vigor and not completely labor through my movements. That was two days into being lost and it was not nearly as hot during the daytime as it was when Bill was in JT. Bill was a tough and hardened military vet, but nobody is going to make it far without water for 3 days in that heat. Just my two cents.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Tue Sep 28, 2021 5:50 pm

It's been a long year. The only time I've slept outside was in JT in March, and that is far less than I would like. Up until two weeks ago, it was my counseling internship on the weekdays and working at Walmart on the weekends. My plan when I graduate in December was to either get hired by the agency I intern at (which I'm hoping for) or spend three months searching in Joshua Tree then taking a slow, meandering road trip to visit my parents on the NH seacoast before settling down somewhere in the Southwest. It's looking more and more favorable that I will be hired, so whenever I have a four day weekend during the "not so blazing hot" season I plan to swing out there. On every trip thus far I've been met with disappointment, but I always have a great time. When my weekends are open, I will probably get involved with a much more local search around here. 9 hours each way to get to JT is a tad much but I can see myself doing it for at least a few more years. I know the overall search isn't as active as it once was, but has anybody else been out searching this year? He's still out there somewhere.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby bretpct » Sat Oct 02, 2021 10:44 pm

Hello JD,

I did a rather long loop back in May through the hills west of Quail Mt. As per usual I had no real plan, just wanted to get out hiking, and I usually go in the presumed Ewasko areas, so I probably duplicated previous efforts.

I too plan to get a few hikes in the cool season, and I'm planning on doing slightly more methodical searches, starting within a couple miles West of the found car location, and south of the Juniper Flats road. I'm trying to "think outside the ping" as it were. Perhaps it's not accurate, and Bill encountered troubles not far from his car, and tried to get to high ground for cell service.

Also, I was at the bookstore the other day and found Ed Rosenthal had written an account of his own disastrous day hike which occurred only about a dozen miles from and a couple of months after Bill's.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Tue Oct 19, 2021 10:20 pm

Hi Bret!

That's great to hear that there are still other people actively searching. I really like your idea of thinking outside the ping and being methodical in your searches. It is really a terribly mysterious missing person's case and I believe it more than merits thinking outside the box.

I was hoping to get over there around Christmastime but that is not going to happen now. In fact, I won't be hiking anytime real soon. Two days ago, I was hiking in a beautiful canyon (Mineral Creek Trail in Alma, NM) and I stepped on a log which I stupidly assumed was fixed in place on rocks. I ended up fracturing both the tibia and fibula down by the ankle. Thank goodness I was no more than 1/3 of a mile in and with other people because I could not imagine this happening alone and far off-trail (which is usually the scenario when I hike). Nevertheless, I received a lot of help from some of the wonderful people of that community. First on spine board stretcher and then on horseback. It sucked, but that same trail is the same one I plan to first tackle when I'm back hiking again. Hopefully, shooting for a March trip to Joshua Tree isn't too idealistic. If I can't hike up Quail and lack the capacity to push close to 15 miles, I'll just have to wait until about a year from now.

My first lesson learned in this ordeal is to make sure I'm committing to a sturdy step each and every time while hiking. I've had other close close calls and rolling the dice finally caught up to me. Secondly, I'm going to invest in a satellite phone before going out again.

I know the injured Bill scenario has been posed many times on here, and I have always thought it was the most likely scenario. Now I'm thinking it's the case even more. Given that it's been over 11 years, I'd expect to find him in a remote but nondescript area (though that doesn't really narrow it down). As hot as it was then, if he was injured, he'd be aiming for any shade possible.

I wish you luck Bret and stay safe out there!

JD
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Fri Oct 22, 2021 1:29 am

https://billingsgazette.com/news/state- ... fe2f7.html

Pretty cool news article about a hunter's remains being found 53 years after his disappearance in Idaho. Conditions in JT are even better for preservation.
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby aeolian » Sun Oct 24, 2021 5:04 pm

Noob here. Catching up. I've looked at a chunk of stuff on otherhand, and parts of this thread. I don't see much about Bill. Who he was, what hiking, running, and desert experience he had. Bill's trip planning, what books/maps/websites he referenced. How was he dressed? What gear did he carry on this trip? How fit was he? He was newly arrived from Georgia, what food, water, and supplies did he purchase, and is it all accounted for? Footwear choice? Eyesight and glasses? Presumably somebody looked into this, any references?

We think he arrived after 10:20, though I'm willing to consider he arrived earlier. Eyewitness testimony is not reliable. His GF attempted to reach a ranger that evening. I take that to mean she expected him to call, meaning he expected to call her. Timeline reinforced by the dinner plan, leaves up to 6 or 8 (tops) hours for a walk/hike/adventure/trail run. Sounds like he changed plans in the morning, suggesting he carried multiple maps in the car or a thorough Jtree guidebook (yet he had handwritten directions to the TH?).

What I'm getting at is for some people, hiking the flat trail 2 miles out and returning to car would be an endurance event. Whereas a trail runner might make a 20-25 mile loop, out the California Riding and Hiking Trail into Covington Wash, crossing Smith Water, returning via Quail Springs and the Park Road a typical run. A crosscountry 'shwacker might enjoy canyons, ridges, just about anything. What type was Bill?

I see the general assumption is that Bill planned to summit Quail Mountain and return, but became injured. Unless he got turned around, I see no reason he would descend toward Smith Water on an unknown crosscounty route. He would have returned to the car (he had a gallon or two of water there I assume. Did he?). His car has the closest and best resources on the easiest route with best chance of encountering other humans.

Whatever Bill's plan was, without careful navigation, he can get himself on the wrong trail or off trail pretty easily. There's multiple trails crisscrossing plus erosion "trails" and animal tracks. His prior desert experience and interest suggests once he determined he was thoroughly lost, he had some ideas about survival - conserve water, find water, travel by night (the full moon) or morning. Try the cell phone occasionally. I agree with the assumption he turned off his cell phone before entering the park, and this means he was alive Sunday morning most likely. If he found water he may have traveled a couple days longer.

Seems there's a minimum of clues, creating a wide range a plausible scenarios.

Where did Greg Mendoza hike? This might reduce probabilities of certain initial Bill routes.

Also, what can be found now? Bones and clothes likely disintegrated in a few years. Plastic water bottles are likely gone too if they see the sun. Dirt encrusted grey flip phone and a shoe sole? What do you look for?
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Re: Story of missing hiker in Joshua Tree NP

Postby jdclifford » Mon Oct 25, 2021 1:58 pm

Hi aeolian,

Welcome! I'm so tied down with my internship and and my last semester of grad school right now that I can't offer you a thorough response for like another week (maybe somebody else will beat me to it), but I can say that all known information is definitely on the OtherHand website. I believe it is under "a listing of resources available as part of this search," though I could be wrong. I believe this includes footwear, water, experience, itinerary, etc. If I recall correctly, little was known about his clothing.

If you see the post I made right before you, the remains of a man in Idaho was found 53 years after he went missing. Bones were found, with some other bones apparently having been, presumably, scavenged. The conditions in Joshua Tree would be even better for preservation.
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