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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


In the ensuing days, an ever-building sense of unease gnawed at rangers chasing the ghost of Randy Morgenson. Dogs followed scents that seemed to evaporate on lonely mountain passes, leaving the animals sitting on their haunches, stopped dead in their tracks. Intriguing, random pieces of gear were found in several different locations, but none could be positively linked to Randy. Tracks were inconclusive at best; rain showers certainly weren't helping. Meanwhile, an NPS criminal investigation team found Randy's car where he'd parked it. Bank records showed no withdrawals. Credit cards hadn't been used.

Then a letter arrived at Randy Morgenson's home in Sedona, Arizona. His wife, Judi, who had sent him into the backcountry with divorce papers to sign, opened the letter, read a few lines–and had to sit down. It was clearly from Randy himself. By this time, she had become certain that something tragic had occurred, but this letter made her think differently. It had been postmarked 2 days after his supposed disappearance. Since there is no postal service in the backcountry, she couldn't understand how Randy could have mailed this letter if, indeed, he was still in the mountains.

Days passed, and the search grew increasingly hopeless. Psychics were even being considered as viable options. Most of the rangers felt the mystery behind Randy Morgenson's disappearance would never be solved. Others pledged to never quit searching–not until the truth was known.

Then, at a time when the effort to find Randy, or at least some answers. seemed futile, a clue was found.

An unlikely group of wilderness sleuths was making its way up a slippery, rugged gorge very near the outermost borders of the search area. Something caught their attention–a weathered backpack cast to the side of a rushing torrent, below the pools of a waterfall. They discovered other items, too. A boot was the most telling piece of evidence–halfway submerged in water, halfway out, with something white protruding. Upon closer examination, searchers made a horrible realization: It was a legbone. The boot and pack seemed to match the description of gear that Randy reportedly had been using–all but guaranteeing that this gorge was the ranger's final resting place.

Investigation and recovery teams were flown in. The gorge took on the appearance of a wilderness crime scene–yellow tape marking gear and human remains. Nothing could be discounted. Many of Randy's friends volunteered to help with the morbid recovery process. Soon thereafter, someone found a park-issue radio–but curiously, it was resting atop the falls, not at the bottom like the other evidence. This discovery confused matters even more. Although these remains seemed to confirm Randy had been in the mountains the whole time, ranger Bob Kenan wasn't so certain this spot was where Randy had met his end. Kenan, in particular, had remembered searching this very gorge, and crossing at the exact spot where the radio was found. It was the same creek crossing he always used while in this area of the park. He was certain he would have seen it, which made at least one other ranger muse, "Had Randy left the park, and then come back?" Foul play was still a possibility, as was suicide, which if proven would cancel the payment of the public safety officer's benefit of $100,000 to his next of kin–in this case, Judi Morgenson.



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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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