Nearly a week after a 68-year-old Mentone man departed on a trip to summit Mount Whitney, a search for him continued in alpine terrain on Sunday.
The effort to find 68-year-old Bum “John” Lee on the highest peak in the contiguous U.S. began Wednesday, according to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Lee and several friends departed Monday morning with the intent of that day summiting Mount Whitney via the mountaineer’s route, a more challenging way than the popular hiking trail to the top of the 14,505-foot peak.
But the group seemed to have gotten off route and chose to bivouac overnight near the top of the Whitney-Russell Pass, about a half-mile from the peak, according to the park service.
The next morning, Lee left the group to find a safe way to descend, a companion told the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office. Originally, sheriff’s investigators believed Lee had left his friends with the intention of summiting Whitney by himself, but they learned new information on Saturday.
Lee’s friends waited for him for several hours and then descended with the help of experienced hikers, believing they would meet Lee at their vehicle.
They got down to the trailhead at 10 p.m. Tuesday, but Lee did not appear.
On Wednesday, a California Highway Patrol helicopter out of Apple Valley initiated the search for Lee.
A ground search has taken place every day since then, with multiple search-and-rescue teams working alongside the park service, the Sheriff’s Office, CHP, and the California Air National Guard.
A backpack belonging to Lee was found about 1 p.m. Friday on a rocky outcropping. His friends had seen him hang the pack on a granite ledge.
“We are following all leads,” the Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook.
Lee was last seen above Iceberg Lake.
The Sheriff’s Office initially said Lee was from Redlands, but the park service later said he was from Mentone.