Search For Hiker in Joshua Tree National Park Has A Happy Ending

After being lost in the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park for six days, a California man was rescued Thursday. Photo courtesy of Rosenthal family.

A 64-year-old California man missing in the rugged, canyon-riddled backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park since Friday was found Thursday in surprisingly good condition for someone who probably went several days in the desert without food or water.

Edward Rosenthal, who got lost Friday evening when he took a wrong turn on a loop trail near the southern California park's Black Rock Campground, was spotted by a helicopter crew about 10:30 a.m., according to Joe Zarki, the park's chief of interpretation.

"Apparently they flew over him close enough that he was able to wave to them, attract their attention," the ranger said during a telephone call.

The helicopter was able to land nearby, bring Mr. Rosenthal on board, and fly directly to a hospital in the town of Joshua Tree.

"He’s been reunited with his family, he’s talking, he’s doing reasonably well," said Chief Zarki, adding that the plan was to keep the man in the hospital overnight as a precaution.

The happy outcome was decidedly different from another search for a missing hiker back in June. Teams spent a week looking for William Ewasko, a 65-year-old Marietta, Georgia, man lost in the Quail Mountain area of the park. The search was suspended on the seventh day, and to this date Mr. Ewasko's remains have not been found.

The difference in the outcomes, said Chief Zarki, was that in the latest search-and-rescue operation personnel found Mr. Rosenthal's footprints leading away from the loop trail.

“We didn’t have anywhere near as good a clue as to where that person was," he said, referring to Mr. Ewasko. "We had a good trail to follow coming off the loop trail where (Mr. Rosenthal) made a wrong turn.

“There was a fairly high degree of confidence from Wednesday morning on that we knew about where he was," said Chief Zarki. "The one in June, we never had a clear idea where that gentleman was."

In the latest search, which got under way Sunday when park officials were notified that Mr. Rosenthal had failed to return from a day hike, grew to include roughly two dozen ground personnel, two fixed-wing aircraft, and one helicopter.

“He just made a wrong turn somewhere. He was hiking on a loop trail. Somehow he got off," said the park ranger. "Unfortunately, the area he got off on was a very steep, gorge-like area. He couldn’t get out, just kept going downhill.”

While the spot where Mr. Rosenthal was found was probably 7-8 miles in a straight line, in terms of "canyon miles" from the loop trail, he probably walked twice that distance, said Chief Zarki.

“There’s a maze of canyons once you get off that loop trail.”

Mr. Rosenthal's wife told rangers that he had some food and water with him. "That lasted a day-and-a-half, so maybe since Sunday he’s been out there without food and water," said Chief Zarki. "He got a break because we had some cloudy weather that kept the temperatures down.”

While Los Angeles has been baking in a heat wave that has pushed temperatures there to 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in Joshua Tree the daily high temperatures were probably 15 or 20 degrees cooler, the ranger said. "So that helped him I'm sure."

Weighed against the park's unresolved search in June, the missing plane in Katmai National Park and Preserve, and the death of a hiker in Grand Canyon National Park this week, news of a successful SAR couldn't have come sooner.

“This is the outcome you hope for," said Chief Zarki.

Comments

I saw your piece on the hiker found in Joshua Tree this morning. I happen to live very near that area and heard the helicopter going over head this morning. That is very good news.

I am ecstatic that Ed Rosenthal has been found safe and sound. God has so greatly blessed him and his family. May the search and rescue team forever be as blessed. Thank you very much for your hard work and perseverance.

I fell his pain. My sister and I were out at Joshua tree in Feb and wandered around looking for a specific rock formation that meant a lot to our Grandmother and got lost while searching. I had a photo of the formation in my hand so walked all around many formations looking for the one in the photo and before I knew it I couldn't see or hear anybody and went into a panic. Thankfully I finally found my sister and we made our way back to our car. It is a horrible feeling and am so glad I didn't have to spend the night out there, let alone as many nights as he did.

This was in InsideNPS today, along with "Ailing hiker rescued from Panamints", "Hiker's body recovered from remote are of [Grand Canyon]", and "Suicide victim found in pecan grove area" (Jean Lafitte NHP&P). It's a good day when half of the incidents have happy endings. I have a lot of respect for the rangers and others in the parks having to deal with these almost every day.

For someone supposedly experienced he was not too bright. First he should have been better prepared. Coming from an experienced family of woods people the minute he found himself lost he should have taken a radius and tried to find come sort location marker. The he should have tried to find some water, made some shelter and STAYED PUT. After a day he should have realized that people would be looking for him and made a signal fire....something that rescuers would see................. And NOT wandered around that is why people die. Why is it that all of these "experienced" hikers get themselves in so much unnecessary trouble?

Just an FYI for "Anonymous" who comes from an experienced family of woods people. It's hard to understand until you've been here. (I've lived in Joshua Tree for over 30 years - Originally from the Pacific Northwest) We get approximately 6 inches of rain annually; so there is no water to wait by once you are beyond civilization. You bring your own. There is dirt and rocks, Joshua Trees, Yuccas, sparce scrub & more dirt and rocks. (But when it does rain, the wildflowers are spectacular, and the rock climbers love us.) I've been in the same park, different location - Lost Horse Canyon, which is enclosed by natural rock formations - one entrance in & out. (You can read about it in Louis L'Amour's books.) It's about a 1/2 hour hike and the worst that can happen if you get off the trail is that you go around in circles - the hiking equivalent of the bunny trail at a ski slope. Also, I'd walked the woods in the Pacific Northwest, got myself lost more than once and always managed to find my way home. But in the woods, there are deer trails where I was always able to distinguish landmarks. On the desert we have coyote trails, and these coyote trails can look ssooo much like a hiking trail you can take a wrong turn before you realize it. In Lost Horse Canyon, I took a wrong turn. I retraced my steps, but I couldn't figure out which path was the right path. And the panic started to build. I did find an found an "alternative" path back to the entrance because I climbed a rock and could see the parking lot. Many, many people visit the Joshua Tree National Park each year and never have a problem but it's very, very easy to underestimate the terrain.

Wonderful news.

But a small hiking GPS is an inexpensive tool vital for anyone hiking. Easy to learn to use, too. (Just be sure you understand the difference between an automobile GPS and one intended for hiking off road.)

As for how easy it is to become lost . . . . it's very, very easy. I was an experienced outdoor type and a park ranger when one overcast day in unfamiliar country with no visible landmarks I found myself . . . . .. well, maybe not lost, but in Daniel Boone's words, "A bit bewildered." I just headed down drainage, found a Forest Service guard station and slept warm and dry while my worried companions who weren't bewildered waited out a rainy and snowy night.

My GPS has even come in very handy trying to find my car parked in a huge stadium parking lot.