2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on

Enter Zip Code

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

The average tourist might have pegged the group as a mingling of Whitney-bound mountaineers, dirtbag climbers, and aging hippies. But make no mistake. These were America's finest backcountry rangers–Special Forces, if you will–disguised as an army of misfits. And most of them were just fine with that description.

Not one of them wore the nostalgic cavalry-inspired hat so often associated with American park rangers. They weren't there to appear officious in head-to-toe gray-and-green uniforms; in fact, many were uncomfortable wearing a badge and carrying a gun. They weren't interested in being wilderness cops; in fact, they wanted to be as far as possible from the roads their counterpart frontcountry rangers patrolled in jeeps and squad cars.

There are few blacktop passageways running east to west for any distance in the Sierra, and none running north-south. In the high country south of Yosemite, there is a conspicuous absence of paved roads for more than 200 miles. The most traveled thoroughfare is actually the John Muir Trail, which ends atop 14,495-foot Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48.

Jokingly referred to as a freeway, the JMT is rarely wide enough for two backpackers to walk shoulder to shoulder. Elsewhere in this craggy, high-altitude desert of granite and metamorphic rock, the crowds thin; it's estimated that 99 percent of the parks' backcountry visitors stay on designated trails. Which leaves the bulk of this rugged landscape to backcountry rangers.

The rangers at the base that day held master's degrees in forestry, geology, computer science, philosophy, or art history. They were teachers, photographers, writers, ski instructors, winter guides, documentary filmmakers, academics, pacifists, military veterans, and adventure seekers who, for whatever reason, were drawn to wilderness. In the backcountry, they were on call 24 hours a day as medics, law-enforcement officers, search-and-rescue specialists, and wilderness hosts. They were interpreters who wore the hats of geologists, naturalists, botanists, wildlife observers, and historians. On good days they were "heroes" called upon to find a lost backpacker, warm a hypothermic hiker, or chase away a bear.

On bad days they picked up trash, extinguished illegal campfires, wrote citations, and were occasionally called "f*^%ing assholes" simply for doing their jobs. On the worst days, they recovered bodies.

Park service administrators often referred to these rangers as "the backbone of the NPS." Still, they were hired and fired every season. Their families had no medical benefits. No pension plans. They paid for their own law-enforcement training and emergency medical technician schooling. And there was no room to complain because each one of them knew the deal when he or she took the job.

They were seasonal help. Temporary. In the 1930s, they were called "90-day wonders" who worked the crowded summer season. Stereotypically, seasonal rangers were college students or recent grads taking some time off before starting "real" jobs. They would hang out in the woods for a few summers and then move on, or start jumping through the hoops required to secure a permanent position with the NPS or Interior. Sequoia & Kings Canyon, however, sucked in seasonal rangers like a vortex. More than half of the backcountry rangers who reported for duty in 1996 had been coming back every summer for more than a decade, many for two decades. Randy was the veteran, with almost 30 years of experience.

He was one of 14 paid rangers budgeted to watch over a 1,350-square-mile backcountry area. Two of them patrolled on horseback, the other 12 on foot. Some of the park administrators called the backcountry crew at SEKI (government-speak for Sequoia & Kings Canyon) "fanatics." Most of the rangers were OK with that also. They were OK with just about anything as long as the weather would hurry the hell up and clear so the helicopters could transport them and their gear into the backcountry before their fruit began to rot.

As Randy milled about waiting for the weather to clear, his colleagues noticed something was amiss. By most accounts, he was "in a funk," "out of sorts," and conveyed little excitement for the season to come.

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Address 1:
Address 2:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
May 10, 2013

new nfl jersey cheap, 2013 new nfl jersey sale, nfl jersey 2013, cheap baseball jerseys sf giants jersey cheap
baseball jersey for sale, cheap ncaa jersey, wholesale nba jerseys,wholesale nhl jerseys, discount nhl jerseys, wholesale nike nfl jerseys
nike nfl jersey wholesale ,new nfl jersey wholesale
cheap mlb jerseys, mlb jerseys cheap cheap nhl jersey cheap nba jerseys
wholesale mlb jerseys cheap nhl jerseys wholesale nhl jerseys, basketball jerseys cheap, nba jerseys for sale. college ncaa jerseys
Australia basketball jerseys sale. Australia soccer jerseys cheap.

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.

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.

Nov 01, 2010

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

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.

May 21, 2010


May 21, 2010


May 21, 2010


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.

Oct 18, 2009

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

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.

Jan 23, 2009

Great Book. Buy it. (please)


Your rating:
Your Name:


My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
Dear (*****)
Posted On: Sep 02, 2014
Submitted By: GoBlueHiker
Trailhead Register
Scouting woes...
Posted On: Sep 02, 2014
Submitted By: 92hatchattack

View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site

Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions