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Search intensifies for hiker missing in Sierra Nevada

October 28, 2012 |  6:00 am


More than three dozen searchers scoured the Inyo National Forest in the Sierra Nevada for a Pacific Palisades man who never returned from a three-day backpacking trip.

Larry Conn, 53, was expected to return from his trek Oct. 22. Two days later, on Wednesday morning, a search began, with helicopters, including a National Guard Blackhawk, looking for signs of Conn.

Using thermal infrared technology and eyes from above, searchers have found numerous animal tracks in a blanket of snow, but no human tracks, said Dana Dierkes, a spokeswoman for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.

She said Conn planned to travel over Taboose Pass toward the John Muir Trail on Oct. 19, a hike that Dierkes described as “strenuous,” requiring a climb of more than 6,000 feet into snow-covered wilderness.

On that day, another hiker ran into Conn. But no sightings have been reported since.

“When people are going into the wilderness, it’s a good idea to give someone a trip itinerary, and that’s what he did,” Dierkes said. “It’s very, very rugged up there. The area being searched is between 8,000 and 13,000 feet.”

Daytime temperatures are in the 40s as ground crews hike through snow up to 18 inches deep, with icy conditions, she said. But at night, those temperatures dip to the low 20s.

“We’re just starting the winter storm period,” Dierkes said. “Even though it doesn’t feel like it in L.A. and the Central Valley, in the high Sierra it’s pretty cold.”

Nine ground search teams were dispatched to find Conn, along with three dogs and two helicopters on Saturday. They focused on the areas of Pinchot Pass, Taboose Pass and Split Mountain.

Conn’s vehicle was parked at the Taboose Creek trailhead, and investigators found two notes near a ranger station, but they were not penned by the missing hiker, Dierkes said.

Conn was not the only hiker being sought. In another part of the Sierra Nevada, a search was underway near Shaver Lake for Matthew Hansen, 52, of Visalia, who hasn’t returned from a backpacking trip.

Fresno County sheriff’s Lt. Bob Miller told the Associated Press that the search for Hansen was taking place in a mountainous area blanketed by about a foot of snow. Hansen is described as an avid backpacker who went into the wilderness prepared with food and clothing.

“We have an idea of the path he would have traveled to get from where we found his vehicle and from where he said he was going to go,” Miller said.

Just to the north, in the Desolation Wilderness area southwest of Lake Tahoe, search crews found another hiker who had gone missing last week.

Nathan Sperring, 29, was found Thursday afternoon in good condition in his tent, El Dorado County sheriff's Lt. Tim Becker told the AP.

Sperring had been reported overdue from a hike Tuesday. He had spent six days in the wilderness, two days longer than expected, as he waited out a passing storm, Becker said.


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-- Hector Becerra

Photo: Larry Conn. Credit: National Park Service