Setting of the storyOn September 8th, 2003, just over 3 years ago, two women from Georgia picked a Mirror Lake Rec Area pass from a highway booth. They never returned from their Western Uinta hike.
Carole Wetherton and her daughter Kim Beverly have last been seen very close to Crystal Lake TH, heading in the direction of Long Lake. The search for the women didn't commence until they missed their flight home on Sep 13th. Their rental car was still at Crystal Lake Trailhead, parked next to Notch Mountain trail sign. The two women's remains have been eventually recovered 9 months later, miles North of the Long Lake trail, and the investigators suggested that the pair may have lost trail in the falling snow, choosing to cross a saddle to the West of Mt Watson (towards Holiday Park) instead of backtracking across a saddle to the South of Mt Watson.
On the 3rd anivessary of the womens' death, KSL published digitized photographs from the camera the women have been carrying with them, as well as an image and an approximate location of their final stop. The website visitors immediately questioned the theory of the investigators - it looks like the women may have been heading North of Mt Watson all along:
Picture Locations Wrong - Pictured in Time, Part 1
by David M. (#103363) @ 10:03am - Thu Sep 28th, 2006
I have been up to the Uintahs for many years and have been to most of the lakes off of the Crystal Lake trailhead. Some of the pictures shown on the website were actually taken at Wall Lake (pictures 5-7). Picture 7 is actually a picture of The Notch, a well-known notch in the mountain next to Notch Mountain. I have hiked on the trail that goes up through the notch and down to Ibantik Lake. I have also taken many pictures similar to the one that these two women took of The Notch as seen from Wall Lake.
Just thought it might be an interesting note. It is stated that they went to Long Lake, but the pictures say otherwise.
The basic conclusion wouldn't change, that the women were very reasonably prepared (they carried extra layers, space blanket, water, matches) but couldn't find a way back to their car in a storm, stopped for the night in an area of poor trails two miles from their car, and apparently succumbed to hypothermia. But there are big doubts about the geography of the story. And since the family made the pictures public to raise awareness about dangers of Uinta hiking, and about proper preparedness, and especially about using GPS to know precise locations, it seemed to me that the controversy calls for putting those precise locations of the map.
Importantly, in my opinion, the biggest mystery of Carole's and Kim's death is not why they may have lost a trail (the investigation assumed that the snow covered the trail, although the snow didn't start accumulating in the area until the night of September 9th). To me the biggest question is why they didn't keep going. An oft-repeated go-down-the-creek rule would have brought them to a well-travelled trail in lower Middle Fk Weber in perhaps as little as a mile, and the woods are wide open for cross-country travel at this elevation. In fact searchers on horseback (!) passed by barely 300 yards from their shelter, too late to make a difference.
Was it a trauma, general exhaustion, or darkness which prompted them to stop? A proper reconstruction of their track, pace, and time travelled, might shed some light on these questions.
And in addition to speculating how a GPS might or might not have helped, we may be discussing a need for a (much cheaper, lighter, easier-to-use, and longer-lasting) headlamp. Or we may talk about the proper rules for separating a team when one member is unable to walk and another one may be able to summon help.
Photo Hunt around Notch Mountain TrailOn October 14th I've tried to pinpoint the pictures taken along Notch Mountain Trail and its Clyde Lake spur. Most of pictures between #2 and #18 in the KSL album have been located to within a few feet - check here for a complete list. A couple examples of matching pairs are thumbnailed below:
But after picture #19, we've got a problem. It is a photo which was supposed to be the central clue for the investigation. Heavy rain is hitting a lake surrounded by timber country. Wooded slopes raise from the lake's far shore, with some talus bands visible higher up the slopes. There are three very distinct penisulas jutting into the lake.
Only there wasn't a place like this at the Clyde Divide. The area of Booker and 3 Divide lakes is short on timber, and the slopes above are pretty bare - just check this beautiful view from the slopes of Watson from Penza19 Gallery:
We pressed on to Hidden Lake and circled it ... some timberland on its South shore, but we didn't see any penisnulas or forested slopes behind (doh! read on!).
From Hidden Lake, it was less an a mile cross-country down into Middle Fork Weber gorge. We investigated a half-mile section of the creek, looking for the women's final shelter - a little cove of rock facing West - and couldn't find it either. In hindsight, the shelter rock might not be so trivial to find, because it is illogically far from the creek and the faint trail there. July 10 '04 SLTrib article quoted S&R that
Twice, in separate searches, teams were very close to the women and the shelter they had built. Last fall, a crew on horseback was within 300 yards. And just a month ago on June 5, a reconnaissance team checking the area was about 100 yards from where the pair eventually was found
(A complete collection of potentially useful media tidbits has been posted to SP)
We then backtracked and checked the unnamed lakes on the Northern side of Clyde Lake Divide, and Watson, Linear, Petite, and Cliff lakes between Clyde Lake and the trailhead. Nothing looked like photo #19 there either.
The key picture ... at Long Lake?
It started to look like perhaps the Notch-Clyde hike wasn't the trip where the women got lost. That they might have been in the area twice. The pictures actually bore date stamps from the camera, only the date hasn't been set properly, in any case, the publisher cropped most of them out (there has been a good deal of water damage at the edges of this film, of course). So no help here.
As I already mentioned, the hikers (who just arrived to their Park City timeshare on Sep. 6th) purchased their Mirror Lake pass on Monday the 8th, and the weather has been reasonable in the morning. It only started raining later in the afternoon, then snowing on Tuesday night. The last-sighting reports are contradictory, with most of them saying that a ranger spoke to them near the trailhead on the 8th, while others say it was on the 9th. Some early news reports state that the two have been sighted in Park City on the 9th. It would strike me as highly unusual if the hikers returned to exactly the same high-elevation trailhead, almost an hour drive away from their condo, in a miserable weather, after just completing a nice hike there the previous day. But there are many unusual things in the story, so we just can't rule it out.
I tried to contact various people involved in the story, and got a responce from then-county coordinator of SAR. From what he could remember, the pictures might have been taken on two different trips. He remembered one photo the best, with the heavy rain falling into a lake and clouds rushing down from the ridge, for its unsettling, foreboding quality. This of course must have been KSL's shot #19, and he insisted that it was taken at Long Lake.
The following weekend we trudged through a nearly foot-deep snow to Long Lake and of course it could not have been the place. Most of the timbered slopes are separated from the water by a cliffband, and on the lower shores on the South side, there are very few trees and no matching set of penisulas. I got over half-dozen shots of Long Lake, from all different angles, in the gallery below. Just ain't got a clue where the pictures from the following section have been taken.
The key picture ... at Island Lake maybe?
Just when I was about to give up looking, and to postpone any further search till summer, I came across an intriguing photo in Scott Patterson's book. There on page 82 was an image of a lake with low-slung peninsulas and a lone fir tree guarging the more distant point. This being a small faded B&W reproduction, I couldn't figure out if it might be it, but it sure caught attention.
OK, so we are heading to the beautiful Island Lake now. Lo and behold, it does have shoreline points which are juxtaposed kind of in the same way as in the dead hikers' pictures!
A low-slung, grassy point comes from the left; some distance away on the other side of a lake, another point, topped by a lone fir, comes from the right. A wooded slope rises behind the lake.
The differences are too obvious though. The lone fir tree on Island Lake is much smaller, and the point it is standing on is way rocky. The bay before the nearest point is much wider. The timbered hill behind the lake tops out at the skyline, no talus slopes are there further up.
Some more interesting conclusions from comparing the two pictures:
1. The mystery lake is probably quite a bit smaller than Island lake - just compare the sizes of the trees on the peninsula and on the far shore (of course we don't know the focus length and the extent of cropping to measure it precisely)
2. The mystery picture is likely made from a hillside or a like point elevated slightly above the lake, rather than from the shoreline.
Apart from these interesting hints, we are back to square 1. But with a new set of birds-eye photographs of the area, picturing dozens of local lakes from East Long and Watson mountains (in a separate album - check if any of these lakes look like it to your eye!)
Fellow SP contributor finds the missing link!Just as I kept claiming that the key "KSL images #19 and #20" couldn't have been taken at Hidden Lake, filwould posted a nearly perfectly matching photo - taken right there!
The final two images from the hikers' cameraIn July 2007, we succeeded at last in locating the final two photographs retrieved from their camera. As already expected, they have been made a short distance upstream from the canyon, and downstream from the outlet of Hidden Lake. Still, with hardly any major landmarks in the pictures, locating the spots was nothing short of a needle-in-a-haystack problem. Three trips to the area yielded the answers at last.
The two final pictures have been taken from virtually the same spot on the right bank of the stream, near an old campsite on the East edge of a small meadow with the view of distant Long Peak.
"The Campsite": the next to last photo
"The Little Meadow": the last photo
Unidentified pictures - the mystery lingersCan you ID any of these two?
KSL - no number but according to the uploading order it may have been taken between Hidden Lake and the "Little Meadow".
The SAR shot
External Linksuutah.com thread
KSL 3rd anivessary story
Climb-Utah original story, owing some fallacies to hasty media reporting back in '03-'04
Summit Co UT Sheriff's
Thanks!I would like to thank Lynn & Wendy Deppe, Scott Patterson, Shane Burrows, Jim Snyder, Vlad Turchenko, and Matthew Ross for their help with the research and for their insightful comments.
The last chapter of the story is not finished yet, of course. I will gladly extend more thanks to all of the readers for helping to fill in the missing info!