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Backpacker Magazine – October 2006

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

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

by: Eric Blehm


Mattson's approach was mathematical, directing rescuers toward seach areas that were most likely to yield a missing person or clues, but he also stressed the need to keep an open mind, use common sense, dig for clues, and never discard information. Coffman had pages of notes that proved just how hard everyone had dug for information.

In his logbook, Randy had twice reported going south on the John Muir Trail to Pinchot Pass, once to the summit and the second time over the top to Woods Creek. Leaning on their knowledge of Randy's habits as a ranger, they deduced that it was unlikely he'd gone that direction again–either via the John Muir Trail or any cross-country routes that eventually met up with it to the south.

On the other hand, Randy had not yet been to Lake Basin–which Durkee and Lyness knew was a sacred place for him. Nor had he covered the cross-country routes in Upper Basin or visited any of the tucked-away gems north of the Bench Lake Trail, including Dumbbell Lakes and Marion Lake. With these observations in mind, the rangers threw out ideas of probable distances and places Randy might have visited on a 3- to 4-day patrol.

The information-gathering process had consumed hours, but the voting process took only 20 minutes. Not surprisingly, the Lake Basin area (segment F) was the highest-percentage POA at 26.2 percent, while Marion Lake and its surrounding cirque (segment G) was the second-leading selection at 19.2 percent. The ROW option was voted as the lowest POA by everybody–except Durkee, who assigned that choice a curiously high percentage. That anomaly intrigued Coffman. "You think Randy might have left the park?" he asked. "Why?"

"I told Coffman that Randy's life was in turmoil," says Durkee, "though I didn't go into details with Lo sitting right there next to me." Durkee worried that Randy's marital struggles and his recently ended affair with Lyness had left him in a dangerous emotional state. Durkee also kept quiet about his "very slight, but unshakable" suspicion that his friend might have gone off to some special place and ended his life.

After Coffman dismissed the group until morning and the other rangers had wandered off to their respective sleeping spots, Durkee made a discreet detour to the door of the station. Randy's note was still pinned to the canvas. The date he'd written was June 21–even though it was July. Everyone else had discounted the mix-up of months as an honest slip of the pen, but Durkee couldn't stop thinking that it was a potential clue to Randy's mindset. He reprimanded himself for his paranoia and pushed aside the tent flap. As always, Randy's residence was spartan. "Randy never was much for putting up pictures or drapes to make his stations more homey," says Durkee. "It was a minimalist basecamp."



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Pissed
Apr 01, 2012

This piece masquerades as a full story when in reality it is just a teaser.

FUCK YOU, Backpacker. I will never buy another issue.

Don
Jan 11, 2011

Just finished the book, "The Last Season," and pretty much recommend it to anyone who is attracted to hiking / backpacking and the risks involved.

The subject of the story, Randy Morgensen, was a literal expert at outdoor living and surviving. He was beyond, in experience, what 98% of American outdoor people think they are. But, then, he was lucky enough to grow up in Yosemite with a father who bred him for the outdoors and then he just extended that training on his own starting with mountaineering training in India.

There is a location in the book of where a search dog went through the ice and had to be med-i-vaced out due to a paw injury. It had just alerted to something. The GPS location in the book doesn't make sense. Anyone understand that location ? It was easier for me to simply google "Window Peak, CA" and observe the terrain of Window Peak Lake which put me about 1/4 mile away from the spot referenced.

Em
Nov 01, 2010

What I hate is that they don't tell us how Judi felt or did after she found out

Emily
Nov 01, 2010

I have read the book The Last Season, all about his life and disappearance. I think he left the park, sent the divorce paper thing, and than came back and commited sucide.

LION 01
May 21, 2010

I ATE HIM YUM YUM

Anonymous
May 21, 2010

NOBODY IS AN EXPERT IN A WILD HARSH ENVIORNMENT
LEAVE IT TO THE MOUNTAIN LIONS

Anonymous
May 21, 2010

NOBODY IS AN EXPERT IN A WILD HARSH ENVIORNMENT
LEAVE IT TO THE MOUNTAIN LIONS

Scott
May 07, 2010

I knew Randy well during my six years as back country ranger. I can see both scenarios. If he left the back country I don't he could have stayed gone. He loved it to much. It was his home and rangering was the only way of life he knew.

Mario
Oct 18, 2009

It's all America's fault! Happy eco freaks?

DArmenta
Oct 14, 2009

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

A. Both. One led to the other. End of story.

Aj
Jan 23, 2009

Great Book. Buy it. (please)

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