When a Phoenix, Ariz., resident embarked on the Middle Fork Trail on Wednesday, Nov. 18, he fully intended to be back with his family and friends to partake in Thanksgiving Day. But the holiday came and went, and Vince Scalise, 41, left an empty chair at the table.
The solo backpacker was reported overdue on Saturday, Nov. 26. Sequoia National Park searchers were informed that Scalise intended to camp for five nights at Panther Creek, just three miles from the trailhead that is reached by taking the road to Buckeye Flat Campground, then continuing past the campground junction on a rutted dirt road for another mile-and-a-half.
A team of searchers hiked into the area on Sunday, Nov. 27. Teams from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Yosemite National Park, and YODOGS (Yosemite Search and Rescue dog teams) were involved in the effort.
It didn’t take them long to find the body of Vince Scalise at the base of Panther Creek where it meets the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River. The Tulare County Coroner ruled the cause of death as blunt force trauma, which is consistent with a fall.
Just downstream from where the Middle Fork Trail crosses Panther Creek, the waterway plunges a couple hundred feet to the Kaweah River below. The lure of trying to climb down the vertical canyon wall to the river proves strong for some hikers.
According to Sequoia’s acting public affairs officer Mike Theune, Scalise’s camp was set up. Scalise may have fallen while attempting to descend to the river or he could have possibly slipped on the water-polished granite at the top of the falls and tumbled over the edge.
This is the second death to occur in this area this year. In May, David Hallinan, 53, of Santa Monica died after he fell from the top of the falls while on a solo backpacking trip.
In March 2014, Omar Awaida, 13, died when he fell while trying to climb down to the Kaweah River.
This is the 10th fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 2016. Also, there is currently a solo backpacker, Robert Woodie, 74, of Manhattan Beach, who went missing in October who has not been located and another fatality — Michael Powell, 36, of Irvine — that occurred in the Mount Whitney Zone just beyond the boundary of Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: 2016 fatalities
There have been 12 fatalities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (or vicinity) this year.
Patricia Bayza, 53, of Santa Clarita was discovered deceased in her room at Wuksachi Lodge (Sequoia) on Thursday, March 24.
David Hallinan, 53, of Santa Monica died Thursday, May 12, after he fell while backpacking at Panther Creek on the Middle Fork Trail (Sequoia).
Cory Proud, 26, of Tustin died Friday May 20, while backpacking at Mehrten Creek on the High Sierra Trail (Sequoia) due to a pre-existing medical condition.
John Lee, 68, of Redlands died Tuesday, July 19, after he fell while off-trail near Mount Whitney in Sequoia.
Ryan Pineda, 19, of Hanford died Friday, July 29, when he fell while hiking with his family on the Muir Grove Trail in Sequoia.
Julia MacKenzie, 30, of Alameda died Wednesday, Sept. 7, after she fell while climbing with a companion on the Evolution Traverse (Mount Haeckel) in Kings Canyon.
Billy Nguyen, 19, of San Jose drowned in Eagle Lake in the Mineral King area of Sequoia on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Alfred Kwok, 50, of Claremont, died on or before Sunday, Sept. 18, when he fell during a solo climb of Deerhorn Mountain just north of Forester Pass in Kings Canyon.
Alexandra Braund, 22, of Durham, N.C., died Saturday, Oct. 1, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall near Little Baldy Saddle on the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park.
Not officially declared dead— Robert Woodie, 74, of Manhattan Beach was reported overdue after he failed to return from a solo four-day backpacking trip into Kings Canyon National Park on Thursday, Oct. 13. The search-and-rescue operation was called off when winter-like storms arrived in the area.
Michael Powell, 36, of Irvine died Monday, Oct. 17, after reaching the summit of Mount Whitney with a companion late in the day then venturing off-trail during the descent due to darkness (Mount Whitney Zone, Inyo National Forest).
Vincent Scalise, 41, of Phoenix, Ariz., died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall sometime between Friday, Nov. 18, and Wednesday, Nov. 23, during a solo five-day backpacking trip to Panther Creek, three miles out on the Middle Fork Trail (Sequoia).