Mt. Whitney hiker’s body discovered after a five-day search


The body of John Likely, 60, of Dumont, N.J., was discovered during an aerial flyover on Thursday, June 19, and recovered the following day after an extensive multi-day search. Likely had reached the summit of Mt. Whitney on Saturday, June 14, and was descending to Outpost Camp where his companions awaited his return when he went missing.

Likely, who only recently moved to New Jersey assist his mother, was formerly a longtime resident of the Bay Area. He had been hiking with the same two companions for more than 30 years. 

They said that it wasn’t unusual that Likely hiked slower. The pair last saw Likely when they were at Trail Camp. Using binoculars, they verified that he was descending the switchbacks, so they continued to their destination of Outpost Camp.

When Likely failed to show up at camp that evening, his companions searched on their own into the next morning, then notified authorities that the hiker was missing.

The massive rescue came to a halt five days later when a body was spotted from the air.  

“This has been an extremely difficult five-day search,” said Nate Derr, Inyo County search-and-rescue coordinator. “From the beginning, we treated this as a rescue, not a recovery.”

Likely was last seen hiking in the cable rails portion of 99 Switchbacks, between Trail Camp and Trail Crest, on a section of the renowned Whitney Trail. Investigators hypothesize that when he spied Mirror Lake below the trail near Outpost Camp, he veered off trail to attempt a shorter cross-country route.

Rescuers reported that Likely’s body was found in a steep chute less than 10 minutes from the trail. It appeared that Likely fell approximately 50 feet and had succumbed to his injuries.

Nearly 100 searchers scoured the Mt. Whitney terrain near the switchbacks, some who camped overnight to spend more daylight hours searching the rugged high elevation terrain. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks provided a helicopter as well as ground operations between Trail Crest and Crabtree Ranger Station.

Four different helicopters were used to transport searchers to the steepest terrain and to take aerial images that were digitally enhanced for any sign of the missing hiker. Up to 100 searchers took part in the SAR effort. 

The recovery of the victim was technical and required a special crew with mountaineering equipment and expertise. Likely’s body was transported to the Inyo County coroner’s office where the cause of death was determined to be massive traumatic injuries sustained while hiking.

Likely was an experienced hiker, and this was his fifth summit of Mount Whitney. At 14,505 feet above sea level, the mountain is the tallest peak in the contiguous 48 states. The chute where the body was discovered is at 11,450 feet.


Hiker dies in Paradise Valley

In an unrelated incident, an unidentified 60-year-old male from El Monte was pronounced dead by Kings Canyon National Park rangers at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 25, in the backcountry area known as Paradise Valley, northeast of Cedar Grove. While backpackers performed CPR, two of the victim’s companions hiked out to summon help after the victim suffered an apparent heart attack.

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