2nd Fatality For Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks This Year
SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – A somber shadow looms over the towering majesty of Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park, as the year 2023 witnesses the dark stain of tragedy for the second time within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This iconic peak, the crown jewel of the contiguous United States, sees the aspirations of around 30,000 eager climbers annually, yet only a mere 10,000 manage to conquer its daunting heights. The ascent, a grueling 11-mile hike that ascends over 6,000 vertical feet to the awe-inspiring summit at 14,494 feet, represents the highest point most will ever experience. Historically, the perilous path to Mt. Whitney has claimed, on average, two lives each year. However, since 2022 has brought forth a grim twist to the narrative, with the death toll rising to six in the past 18-20 month’s, leaving experts and industry professionals to dub the growing stream of climbers on Whitney’s trails a “Catastrophe” as aptly noted by Outdoor magazine on May 12, 2022. Regrettably, 2023 bears witness to the confirmation of a second fatality, a stark reminder of the treacherous yet rewarding nature of this iconic journey to the summit.
Press release NPS – October 20-2023- Tom Gerbier, a French National of Fontenay-sous-Bois, France, and pilot for Air France, was reported missing when he didn’t show up for his return flight. He started his hike from Whitney Portal early Tuesday morning, October 17, via the Mountaineering Route and was due back on a flight on Wednesday, October 18.
Inyo County Sheriff’s Office took the lead on this search and rescue operation with fly overs of Mt. Whitney on Wednesday, the day Mr. Gerbier was reported missing, with no result. Early on Thursday morning the National Park Service and Inyo County launched ground teams into the area. As ground teams began to summit on the Mountaineering Route, they noticed clues that a hiker may have fallen off a cliff in the area known as “The Notch.”
The NPS helicopter assisting with search operations was redirected to that area and located a motionless hiker with clothing matching the description provided. The hiker had fallen about 1,000 feet. Thursday evening Mr. Gerbier’s body was recovered via helicopter and transferred to Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, who confirmed his identity.
This marks the 2nd fatality for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year. This rescue was made possible through the assistance and collaboration of Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Inyo Search and Rescue Team, and the climbing community.
In the world of climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, the allure of Mt. Whitney, with its awe-inspiring heights and unforgiving trails, is a siren’s call that beckons with a paradoxical mixture of accomplishment and danger. The passion that drives these individuals to risk their lives on Whitney’s treacherous slopes is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a passion that defies reason, transcending the limits of human endurance, and tapping into an innate desire to conquer the unconquerable.
In the end, while the allure of Mt. Whitney remains potent and its call irresistible, it is essential for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts to remember the price that can be exacted. To approach this formidable peak with reverence, caution, and an unwavering respect for its formidable challenges is the mark of a true adventurer. The passion that draws so many to the heights of Whitney is a double-edged sword, a relentless pursuit of both glory and peril. The mountain remains a formidable teacher, reminding us of the fragility of life and the boundless strength of the human spirit, leaving those who dare to tread its path with stories that inspire, and sometimes, a cautionary tale for the ages.