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Detective Photo Hunt in the Uintas
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Detective Photo Hunt in the Uintas

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Detective Photo Hunt in the Uintas

Page Type: Article

Object Title: Detective Photo Hunt in the Uintas

Activities: Hiking

 

Page By: Dmitry Pruss

Created/Edited: Oct 22, 2006 / Jul 11, 2007

Object ID: 237508

Hits: 12909 

Page Score: 90.13%  - 31 Votes 

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Setting of the story

On 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.
 
Overview of the routes
Blue - route of lost hikers according to investigators
Red - actual route of lost hikers to Clyde Lake

Topozone and image links:
Crystal Lake TH (trails have been realigned to begin from the TH parking lot)
Hidden Lake (photo)
Long Lake (photo of Mid Fk Weber junction)


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.
 
According to investigators  theory,
Did they make a wrong turn by this cairn?

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 Trail

On 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:

or

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?

 
East Face of Cone a.k.a. Island Peak
Trail to 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.
 
A peninsula?
Definitely not here!

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!

Hidden Lake
The trees, the shoreline, the slopes ... bingo!

The final two images from the hikers' camera

In 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 Hidden Campsite image of the lost hikers revealed
The "Campsite" location revealed!

"The Little Meadow": the last photo


The Little Meadows shot of lost hikers revealed
The "Little Meadow" location revealed

Unidentified pictures - the mystery lingers

Can 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 Links

uutah.com thread
utahgeocachers.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!

Images


Comments


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Viewing: 21-40 of 48 « PREV 1 2 3 NEXT » 

Dmitry PrussPS - I noticed that you and Shane

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

were discussing the "appoximate final shelter location" on uutah forums. It is kind of funny to read his critique since I merely copied the location from his own article on climb-utah website :) And he in turn took it from a newspaper drawing back in 2004. But the news accounts were widely conflicting. Others put the spot closer to Hidden Lake, and one even said it was within 1.5 miles from the trailhead (really!)
Anyways ... I figured that not everybody reads the "figure legend" and so I just edited the picture, changing the little Shane'esque circle into a HUGE OVAL. So even the quickest glance at the map would make it clear that the final location remains a mystery.
Posted Nov 8, 2006 8:47 pm

ScottRe: PS - I noticed that you and Shane

Scott

Hasn't voted

Yep, we were discussing it. I thought the little blue circle was an actual location. If it came from the media, it can't trusted for sure.
Posted Nov 9, 2006 9:09 pm

Dmitry PrussIf it came from the media, it can't trusted

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

As you said. I spoke with an ex-SAR guy who's been there and he didn't wanna give any more details other than "you won't find it". Out of fear of playing into morbid curiousity, I suppose. And there might be something right about it ... but since, so far, they've got almost everything in this story wrong, I think the cops may be wrong again.
Posted Nov 9, 2006 10:07 pm

Dmitry PrussTwo more images id'd, the final still elusive

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Just completed adding another section to the article - the two last dead hikers' photographs locations have been identified.
Posted Jul 11, 2007 5:08 pm

yatsekExertion

yatsek

Voted 10/10

physical or mental stops the brain working properly - one just mixes up the simplest things; hypothermia can set in quite suddenly - in the 1930s in the Tatra Mts 2 men (one was a climber) + 1 boy aged 12 died just a few hours after they'd left a chalet. It was autumn, rain and wind, they'd just crossed the col and descended to the tarn in the cirque on the other side and - as the woman who was with them reported - suddenly all became delirious. Unfortunately, she treated each with a drop of cognac, after which they all passed away. And she, the only survivor, stayed by their bodies for over 30 hours till she managed to pull herself together and finally walked down the valley to the nearby village.
Posted Dec 31, 2008 12:31 pm

stripey22Resurrect this thread!

Hasn't voted

I agree with your findings. I also think that mixing up North and South beyond Clyde is unlikely. The "Little Meadow" photo does not show weather as an immediate problem. The sky is quite light and visibility seems to be unlimited. This photo leads me to believe that these women might have known where they were and where they wanted to go. Why they stopped is the question. My question, is the Little Meadow due West of Hidden or is it WNW or WSW of Hidden? I believe the shelter location is much further South than most think and much closer to Hidden Lake. A likely North facing ridge or cliffband is a possibility just SW of Hidden and lies along a route that would be the one of least resistance for the victims after leaving Hidden Lake. I also question why a SAR member would say, "you won't find it"? Because he knows we all think it is somewhere it isn't?
Posted Nov 16, 2010 2:09 pm

Dmitry PrussRe: Resurrect this thread!

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Wow, it's been over 3 years since anybody asked. WSW ... the coordinates linked to the picture are pretty good, and Google satellite images got better over these years.
Hmm, so your reasoning is that they knew what they were doing, and were trying to return to the car around the West side of Watson's? I crisscrosed a good deal of terrain in that corner, but probably not every nook.
As to the SAR ... he couldav been just dismissive, like you don't know shit ... or he might have known for a fact. Like if the picture of - supposedly - the final resting spot isn't really it. Who knows...
Posted Nov 16, 2010 6:21 pm

stripey22Re: Resurrect this thread!

Hasn't voted

That's my opinion. I think they knew about where they were and where they wanted to go. That's not to say they knew what they were doing. Most maps show that route around the West end of Watson looking pretty easy. The million dollar question is, like you stated, what caused them to stop? Family of the victims stated that they prepared their hike very carefully and that at least one of them was an experienced hiker. It's a very intriguing situation to say the least.
I plan to spend a couple days along the Middle Fork in the spring. I think I'll approach it around the West of Watson and leave by following the easiest route as I imagine they would have.
Posted Nov 17, 2010 12:27 pm

stripey22Re: Resurrect this thread!

Hasn't voted

I am ignorant as far as techno coords and all that. I use maps and a compass along with experience to do this kind of thing. If I were to start using a GPS, where or how would I find the coords attached to the photos? Thanks
Posted Nov 17, 2010 12:36 pm

Dmitry PrussWhat makes one stop?

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Only 2 kinds of things could stop determined hikers on the way back to the trailhead: either they don't know where to go (lost, darkness, fog...) or they are physically unable to keep going (injury or exhaustion). Darkness or exhaustion are both unlikely given how little distance they actually covered after making their last photographs. So I'm pretty much sure that an injury has been involved. The true life-or-death question is, then, why they didn't separate?
If they weren't really sure about their location and route, that would make their fateful decision to stay together more reasonable.
As to GPS and stuff ... I'm with you 100%, a GPS device isn't a magic cure. It could even make things worse for clueless users sometimes. But what got me so interested in the story in the first place was how vehemently their kin insisted that a GPS would have saved them. No easier way to get a GPS buff like myself all fired up :) So of course, of course, I ended up recording coordinates of, like, everything on this quest.
To see the coordinates and the Google satellite photos: click on the image (you'll get here:
http://www.summitpost.org/the-little-meadows-shot-of-lost-hikers-revealed/310530)
and look at the right hand side of the page for the "Image Data" box, with a clickable location link (which says Lat/Lon: 40.70821°N / 110.98967°W). Clicking would get you to Google maps, where you may selected "Hybrid" for satellite images, and zoom in to see every tree around this little meadow and every twist of the creek running through it.
Posted Nov 17, 2010 2:31 pm

stripey22Re: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

Great points! I have seen first hand the consequences of an inexperienced GPS user trusting it's direction. GPS was correct but the user couldn't or wouldn't understand the info.
Thanks for the help with the links.
Over the years I have been involved in several searches in the area but not this one and it's this one that nags at my brain and won't stop.
Posted Nov 17, 2010 2:59 pm

brlyRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

It seems to me that they may have planned to circle Mt Watson. This would require minimal knowledge of the area without a map in hand. Following this and their last location, I would have stayed on elevation and gone South. Going to the West is heavily forested with steep declines. Going South may have placed them the one and a half miles from the trail head as was reported but farther South than was reported.

As was stated, this would also lead me to think there was an injury. Probably to the experienced hiker.
Posted Nov 23, 2010 8:24 pm

Dmitry PrussRe: What makes one stop?

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Probably the more experienced hiker being injured - that's a very good point.

I definitely haven't explored the circle-the-Watson idea. Before identifying the location of the last images, I checked a good deal of terrain immediately to the South of this location (and a good deal more to the West where all these rocky fissures on the slopes overlooking Weber river are found). But I haven't venured to the South of a little glade at 40.705807,-110.993607 (that's some quarter mile from last image location). And on the satellite images you can see a few rocky belts further South, that's definitely something to check.
Posted Nov 24, 2010 4:38 pm

brlyRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

The area surrounding 40.70374, -110.99507 might be a good place to look.

After reading more of the media reporting on this story, it's even more curious. The more I read the stranger it seems.

The first rule they broke was by not letting someone know where they were and when they would be back.

One report said that the family claimed they were both experienced hikers. Other reports also said that one of them was a nurse.

When the remains were found, it was reported that there were no signs of a fire, yet it was reported that they had matches and that it appeared they were attempting to dry their clothes. I would assume that a nurse and experienced hiker would have known the signs of hypothermia and possible paradoxical undressing.

Stopping was not the problem. Staying alive was! Having GPS would not have helped that in any way.

Posted Nov 27, 2010 1:13 pm

ashergreyRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

Just registered to say I've been following this page awhile and visited the area you mentioned yesterday. There is a small west-facing cliff band right there, but it doesn't match the SAR picture.

But I am now firmly in the "circle Watson" theory camp. I'm beginning to think they weren't actually lost and might have been hoping to reach the pack trail along the Middle Fork of the Weber so they could follow it out past Long Lake and to the trailhead.

Instead of heading straight west from the meadow location southwest of Hidden Lake, I believe they would have trended south toward 40.70374, -110.99507. There are rock bands east of there. Problem is, that becomes a climb. The meadow is at about 10,200 while the rocky areas in that region are at about 10,400. That 200 foot elevation gain is not insignificant, especially if you're accustomed to low-elevation, are hiking in poor weather and are exhausted.

I believe they would have trended south along the 10,200 mark seen on the USGS Mirror Lake quad, maybe descending gradually to around 10,000 when they were directly west of Watson. (40.698772° N / -110.997531° W ?) This would put them easily within 300 yards of the pack trail and would help explain why the Summit County SAR folks are so insistent that they had instead made a wrong turn coming from the Long Lake area.

As for why they sheltered there, injury is a likely factor but I'm also wondering if lightning could been a cause. They showed resilience hiking as far as they did in inclement conditions and it seems to me that they would have pressed on unless something dramatic compelled them to stop. If they'd never experienced high-elevation lightning, that could have been enough.
Posted Aug 28, 2011 3:14 pm

Dmitry PrussRe: What makes one stop?

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Thanks for your continuing interest in this riddle! I checked the area of 40.70374° N 110.99507° W two or three times, even before homing in on the locations of the last photographs made by the doomed hikers. There is a notable meadow with a little glade some 200 yards NE from this location, and then just a bit further NE, a meandering stream in a meadow; I stopped by at both meadows many times, while scouting the rocky hillocks around. None were nearly as rugged as the "final shelter" picture, but it may be interesting to recheck more.

According to the news stories, the personal articles of the deceased were first found very close to a halicopter landing site during an S&R training exercise. So it would be most reasonable to look within a hundred or two hundred yards of a meadow or an open spot in the woods, where their chopper would have landed.

Have you visited the area? Having been there many times, I couldn't help feeling the aura of getting lost at an edge of civilization. As you wander off the official trail near the Divide Lakes, the trails grow fainter and fainter, the campsites become ever more overgrown and spaced further and further apart. But the terrain invites you downhill and further downhill, all the way to their last photo location. It sounds like the logic of lost hikers to me: to take notes of the few continuing signs of human vistation, and to keep walking downhill. If they truly intended to circle Watson on purpose, they might have taken a higher route, a traversing path of sorts, instead of needlessly loosing elevation?
Posted Aug 31, 2011 6:21 pm

ashergreyRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

I think able-bodied hikers in good weather intending to circle Watson would trend uphill around the base of the mountain, but exhausted out-of-towners in inclement weather would follow the path of least resistance... generally downhill on the most gentle grade possible. I don't believe they would have moved above the tree line if lightning were present, which is a good possibility.

The picture of their final shelter is also perplexing. Part of why I suspect lightning is their shelter appears to be something they would have had to seek out, as opposed to a spot they just happened upon. From what little I've seen of that area, there are not many rock outcroppings that would have provided as good a shelter. There is a lot of exposed rock, but as you say none of it is quite as rugged.

Part of what makes this hunt so interesting is its proximity. I've hiked in areas far more desolate, both in the Uintas and elsewhere. At no point were these women all that far from the Mirror Lake Highway or the summer homes in Weber Canyon, but by going only about a mile off-trail, they ended up entirely isolated.
Posted Sep 1, 2011 12:20 pm

Dmitry PrussRe: What makes one stop?

Dmitry Pruss

Hasn't voted

Lightning is possible in early September, although this was a colder kind of a storm, one which would bring the snow to the Uintas the following day. Anyway the clouds don't look too stormy yet on their last photograph, which was made barely a third of a mile away, over easy terrain, from where you think they might have sought a shelter from lightning. Of course we can't exclude anything but the lighning threat theory sounds unlikely to me...

Speaking of exposed rock faces, have you seen the pictures which I grouped under Hidden Stream Canyon? That's exactly down the creek from the last photo location, and it does get surprisingly rugged in this rarely visited maze of ravines.
Posted Sep 1, 2011 1:45 pm

brlyRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

So, they're on a day hike. They get so disoriented that they go in the opposite direction from their car near the end of the day? They keep going downhill in the wrong direction into rugged territory?

It just doesn't seem right to me, but I've been wrong many times before.
Posted Sep 10, 2011 11:28 am

UtahHikeRe: What makes one stop?

Hasn't voted

I'm curious in what ways a GPS can lead someone astray? It seems like multiple people have said that? I'm curious because I have a Garmin GPS with maps, and also a sighting mirror compass I use with a paper topo map.
Posted Aug 3, 2012 9:25 pm

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