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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


"The fact is, the whole radio thing was massively screwed up," she says. "Repeaters didn't work, radios didn't work– I had at least three radios that summer–so it was not unusual to not be able to contact someone. It just seemed not to be a priority for anyone who had the power to do something about it."

A few of the rangers gathered at Bench Lake recalled one of Randy's more cynical jokes: "If you're going to get hurt in the park, make sure you do it in a place where there's good radio coverage." The dark humor struck a little too close to home that evening.

Ironically, in his 1995 end-of-season report, Randy had reiterated what he'd been saying for years: "Radio communication&133;was difficult again this season; everyone knows."

"We hope it'll be better next year."

AS THE RANGERS CONVENED, a soft, light-blue sky held a few drifting cirrus clouds–wispy, elongated remnants of the afternoon thunderstorms. Soon the clouds would catch the setting sun's fiery reds and oranges bathing the basin's surrounding peaks in the glorious light for which these mountains are famous.

Normally the rangers welcomed the evening light, even planned their days so they'd be positioned, come sunset, in front of a monolithic hunk of granite or west-facing cirque–a backcountry hike-in theater. But come dusk on the day that Randy's SAR began, there was no pleasant anticipation. Instead, the evening light only ushered in the darkness that punctuated the end of Randy's fourth day without contact and another cold night for him. Alone.

Upon the group's arrival at the Bench Lake station, Randy Coffman, the incident commander, had instructed the rangers to read Randy's logbook to glean any information that might hint where he had gone. As they huddled around the journal, they noted places he'd already patrolled and relayed them to Coffman, who was keeping a list of clues. It was the first step in a methodical, systematic search operation designed to bring order to the chaos of looking for a missing person.



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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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