It was darkness that caused this hiking trip to end in tragedy. An already challenging trail in both distance and vertical elevation, trying to navigate the Mount Whitney Trail after daylight hours adds another twist.
At about 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, Michael Powell, 36, a professional photographer from Irvine, and his female hiking companion reportedly reached the summit of Mount Whitney (elevation 14,505 feet). But about six miles into their nighttime descent back toward the Whitney Portal trailhead, the pair lost the trail in the vicinity of Mirror Lake (elevation 10,640 feet).
Powell’s hiking partner later reported that she heard the victim fall, accompanied by the sound of cascading rocks. She called for him numerous times and received no response.
A backpacker at Outpost Camp, about a half-mile below Mirror Lake, stated that he was awakened at 2:45 a.m. by the female hiker who frantically told him about her partner’s fall and that she didn’t know if Powell was injured or deceased. The backpacker activated the SOS function on his emergency satellite messenger, then descended the trail until he was able to get enough reception to make a 911 call.
Inyo Search and Rescue and China Lake Mountain Rescue Group mobilized to the Whitney area with the assistance of a CHP helicopter. The victim was found in a chute near Mirror Lake and pronounced dead.