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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


One dog handler described the nature of a SAR in the High Sierra as an "organized search in chaotic terrain." In an area as vast as the Morgenson SAR–where only two segments were smaller than 500 acres, the majority were around 2,000 acres, and one segment was more than 7,000 acres–a thorough surface search was difficult enough. Compounding the challenge, this slice of high country was covered by myriad streams and rivers emptying into hundreds, if not thousands, of lakes. Nearly every peak had dozens of active rockslide and snow avalanche paths, any one of which could conceal an injured victim–or a body. Randy Morgenson himself had responded to tragic calls to retrieve climbers who had fallen hundreds of feet. These deaths were precipitated by loose rocks, a patch of ice, a momentary lapse of attention. Some of these incidents were so violent that clothes and even shoes were ripped off. The rangers knew well what granite could do to a human body. The rangers had to go about their business, prepared for the worst.

There was one other possibility that could make the search more difficult. Maybe even impossible. What if Randy didn't want to be found?

By July 27–three days after six rangers had first convened at Bench Lake–the SAR operation had expanded to 55 people, and now included helicopter and dog teams. And as it had grown, so had the tension level of the rangers on the ground. George Durkee voiced frustrations after a long day in the field with a search dog. Lo Lyness broke down in an interview with an NPS investigator.

"The SAR, at that point, was just this amazingly powerful and emotional event that I will never forget for the rest of my life," says ranger Bob Kenan, a longtime colleague of Morgenson who was part of the operation. "It encompassed the entire park. It became a desperate search to find Randy and save him if that was at all possible."



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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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