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A Washington State man faces probation and a multi-year ban from several United States national parks after he pled guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from a 139-person group hike he organized in the Grand Canyon in defiance of park guidelines.
Joseph Don Mount, of Chehalis, Washington, pled guilty to violating park rules limiting group size to 11 people on the October 2020 hike. He will serve two years on probation and will be banned from entering national parks in northern Arizona including the Grand Canyon during that time.
The National Park Service first became aware of Mount’s plans in September 2020, when the Grand Canyon’s permit office received a tip that a large group of more than 100 people was planning to hike the canyon on October 24. The pseudonymous tipster sent a screenshot of a post by Mount in a private Facebook group noting that he had “112 COMMITTED HIKERS COMING FROM 12 DIFFERENT STATES!!!” and talking about the importance of taking precautions so that they wouldn’t draw attention to themselves. Grand Canyon National Park has limited sizes for under-the-rim groups to 30 since 2014, and further lowered the limit to 11 after the Covid-19 pandemic began. When Mount spoke to the park’s permit office, however, he said he was bringing a group of 12 people; when advised that his group was slightly over the limit, he asked about the possibility of splitting it up to comply with the park’s rules, and was informed that was not allowed.
However, Mount kept planning the hike—and park rangers, who had gained access to the Facebook group, continued to monitor it, going so far as to call him again to warn him against hiking the canyon with an oversized group. All that meant that when the hike went ahead as planned, rangers were in place and witnessed the whole thing. As Backpacker reported last May:
“When the group showed up on the day of the hike, rangers were waiting, some in plainclothes. Hopp wrote in the affidavit that he saw a group of about 50 mingling at the North Kaibab Trailhead, and that a few people told him they were with the ‘Mount group.’ Another ranger, Cody Allinson, said that he saw about 150 people enter the Manzanita Day Use Area within half an hour, and that in his 7 months on the job, he had never seen ‘so many individuals traveling in the same direction in such a condensed period of time and space.’ He noted that most were not wearing masks and, because of crowding, they were unable to socially distance. While many hikers told rangers that they were hiking in groups of 9 or 10, a few allegedly admitted that they were hiking as part of a larger event, and rangers observed some using radios to coordinate amongst themselves.”
Initial estimates had pegged the group size at 153 people, but in court the government identified the size as a slightly smaller, though still illegal, 139.
Ryan Stevens, Mount’s attorney, told the Associated Press that his client had only good intentions in organizing the event, and intended it to be a respite from the solitude imposed by the pandemic.