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Two-hour hike turns into overnight misadventure
It was supposed to be a two-to-three hour hike—a ramble, really, nothing much more than a walk in the woods.
But for a 63-year-old Merced man, a hike out of the Horseshoe Lake trailhead last weekend turned into a nightmare series of bad decisions that left him bruised, scarred, tired, and cold.
“It was like the Minnow on Gilligan’s Island,” said Gary Walker. “A two-hour tour.”
At least Gilligan found an island.
Wearing nothing more than three T-shirts, trousers, socks, sandals and a cap, Walker wandered into the mountains without a map or a clear idea of the geography, and no food.
Twelve hours later he emerged, after triggering a massive search that included both the Mono County and Inyo County Search and Rescue teams, two canine search units from Truckee and Clovis, and a helicopter search by an aircraft out of Fresno.
“I was getting in bigger and bigger trouble without realizing it,” Walker said of his march into the wilderness.
“I was making myself a very nice noose, then putting my neck in it.”
It all began Saturday afternoon, on May 18. In mid-afternoon, he and his 24-year-old son, Adam, parted ways at Horseshoe Lake in the Lakes Basin, Adam to return to town and father Gary to tromp the surrounding woods.
It did not take long, however, for Walker to lose the trail because of lingering snow, but he said he figured he did not have a problem. Later, he claimed someone in Mammoth had advised him one could never get lost up here as long as there was a downhill route. Sooner or later, a hiker would run into U.S. 395 or Bishop, and all would be OK.
The route Walker chose went past Reds Meadow and the Devils Postpile, down a fork of the San Joaquin River and west, toward Fresno, no shot at the highway or Bishop, obviously.
He said he kept going even after darkness, trying to use the light of a half moon, and clambering over granite boulders rather than getting tangled in the increasing morass of underbrush.
At one point, about midnight, he said, he slipped on a boulder and crashed into a kind of rock hole, where he spent the night, huddled against temperatures in the mid-30s with only cotton T-shirts for protection.
“I spent a miserable night,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to the Mono County Sheriff’s Department, the search was underway.
“On the evening of Saturday, May 18, at about 8 p.m., Mono County Sheriff’s Dispatch received a call regarding an overdue hiker in the Horseshoe Lake area.
“The hiker was reported overdue by his son when he didn’t return after a three to four hour hike,” wrote Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Jennifer Hansen in a news release.
“The Mono County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue (SAR) team was called out to aid in the search for the missing hiker. The search continued all night with no sighting for the hiker.
“On the morning of Sunday, May 19, the Mono County SAR team received additional search assistance from a CHP H40 helicopter out of Fresno, the Inyo County Search and Rescue team, and canine teams from Truckee and Clovis.
“He did not make it out of the Reds Meadow area before nightfall. He spent a cold night out before some hikers spotted him the next morning, knew the search was going on, and informed (Walker) that search efforts were currently in progress for him.
“The hikers were able to get in touch with the SAR team and take the hiker to a nearby trailhead out of Reds Meadow where Mono County Sheriff’s SAR team members met the hiker and reunited him with his son.”
The “two-to-three-hour hike” thus ended 12 hours later, and by mid-week, Walker was up and about, telling his wild, wilderness tale.