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Missing in Action: How a Backcountry Ranger With 28 Years Experience Disappeared

Did High Sierra ranger Randy Morgenson succumb to depression or disaster?

Suicide became just one of many plausible theories that swirled around the backcountry in ensuing days as nearly 100 rescue personnel converged to join the search in 80 square miles of rugged, high-altitude wilderness. Foul play couldn’t be discounted either. On two separate occasions just the season before, Randy had reported feeling “threatened” by an irate climber and a cowboy. A special investigator assigned to the case quickly learned of the suspicion by some that Randy had hiked out of the mountains to start a new life. But most in the ranger ranks believed he was seriously injured and unable to call for help due to SEKI’s unreliable radio system–a system Randy had complained about throughout his career.

As numerous search-dog teams, search-and-rescue volunteers, and air-support squads converged on the park, a tight-knit group of Randy’s friends–fellow rangers–gathered around the picnic table outside the outpost ranger station at Bench Lake where Randy generally ate his meals. They employed modern search strategies and their own recollections of Randy’s wilderness travel techniques to narrow down the possibilities of where he might be.

Unbeknownst to them, in a remote location far from a marked trail, a clue was waiting to be found near a waterfall–a backpack and some other gear, in a dangerous water-carved ravine, which matched the description of the equipment a backcountry ranger would be issued. This cosmic spot was also one of the beautifully wild and lonely places Randy loved.

Would these clues lead search parties to Randy Morgenson’s location? Or would they only draw the rangers deeper into the mystery of his disappearance?

Part 2

See you at the SAR.”Six veteran rangers had parted just weeks earlier with that foreboding, though not unusual, goodbye. They had never expected to reunite so soon at the Bench Lake ranger station–or that they would be summoned from their remote backcountry posts in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks to search for one of their own.

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