Two Fatalities in Sequoia National Park

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Date: April 23, 2017
Contact: Mike Theune, 559-565-3703

SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS, Calif. April 23, 2017 - Two fatalities occurred in Sequoia National Park this weekend, one on Mount Whitney and one in the Kaweah River.

On Friday afternoon, a group of climbers descending the eastern slope of Mount Whitney crossed paths with a solo climber who was heading up the Mountaineer’s Route. Like the commonly used trail to the 14,494-foot peak, this route starts at Whitney Portal, but it is far more challenging. Sometime later, the group observed a backpack fall and realized that the climber they passed may have fallen. As soon as they were able to obtain a cell signal, they called 911, reporting the incident to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO).

ICSO started an investigation but it was too dark to begin an aerial search. At first light on Saturday, they began a helicopter search and spotted the man’s body after about four hours. He had apparently been traversing the north face of Mount Whitney, an area with snow and ice, when he fell. Because this area is in Sequoia National Park, ICSO contacted the National Park Service, which is commencing operations to retrieve the victim on Sunday morning.

The second fatality occurred on Saturday afternoon. A 21-year-old Tulare woman and three friends were alongside the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River a short distance downstream from the Hospital Rock Picnic Area, six miles inside the Sequoia park entrance on Hwy 198. The woman fell into the river and was swept away. Her friends contacted the parks for help and a search and rescue response was initiated.

Farther downstream, another visitor saw the woman in the river and managed to get her out. Wesley Mungin of Hanford, CA, got the victim to shore, administered CPR in an area upstream from Potwisha Campground.

“Although the rivers of the parks are beautiful and picturesque, they are still an extremely dangerous place to recreate. Due to the record level snowpack the rivers with their fast cold water continue to rise. Please give these environments the respect they deserve for your own personal safety,” said Chris Waldschmidt, U.S. Park Ranger.

The National Park Service was assisted in responding to this incident by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Fire Department, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Exeter Ambulance.  

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About Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

These two parks, which lie-side-by-side in the southern Sierra Nevada in Central California, serve as a prime example of nature’s size, beauty, and diversity. Over 1.8 million visitors from across the U.S. and the world visit these parks for the world’s largest trees (by volume), grand mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, the highest point in the lower 48 states, and more. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/seki or 559-565-3341.

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Last updated: April 23, 2017

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