The sun rises over the beautiful Arizona landscape once again. I hardly slept for a variety of reasons, the unique opportunity to help solve a missing hiker case, worry about retracing my route back to the scene, the possibility of letting down the SAR team and their many associates who had been notified of the find, etc... At 4am, I did not need the alarm to wake me and was glad to start the day.
The sun briefly hides behind the iconic Elephant Head, a feature at the western end of the Santa Ritas. The ascent up the right side is exciting with some mild exposure. I arrive a little before 6am and soon....
…..sheriff SUV's come rolling up. The last time I had 2 of them parked behind me was when fleeing the scene of a crime. Ok, just kidding but the deputies got a kick out of my comment. It was a great group of search team members, totaling 11 and one very small.....
….dog who had been trained to search for what we were hoping to find. I assumed a dog with this skill would be a Lab or similar dog but nope, this little guy was very capable if not especially fast when walking through the woods.
Everyone gears up and begins the steep descent from the road.
I led the group down and down while one of them would periodically tie green tape to mark our return. Noting each of them carried a sidearm, I stated I had never felt so safe during a hike. Later, while opening their packs, numerous snacks could be found and they confirmed not only was I safe but if we became lost, I'd be well fed too.
Yes, steep was the hill side and the bed of pine needles made the slope slippery but we all navigated it just fine. We were about .5 of a mile into the descent when it appeared I had reached an area similar to where I made my discovery on Monday. I notified the group and we fanned out into a line. Soon, a guy announced he had found the log with the hiking poles. I turned to walk towards him.....
….almost immediately saw a bone and a couple of steps later, I found a group of clothing. I was briefly overcome with emotion for realizing I had successfully navigated the group to the correct spot, which was not certain, and that human remains were there too. What a relief and of course knowing the hiker's family would finally have closure.
Both hiking shoes were close together and I am certain that on Monday, one had been close to the hiking poles a little higher on the slope but I could be wrong. The leader of the group called us all together and announced this was now a crime scene. I asked if I should return to my car but he said no so I participated in the search for more remains.
Nature's predators had done what they do so the remains were spread over a broad area. As remains were found, green tape was fixed to the location. Communication was made to the Sheriff's department giving updates and soon word got out to the media. I was told the interest was high and all the local media outlets created updates.
The forest was relatively open beneath the canopy so walking is not difficult other than the steepness of the slopes and occasional boulder fields that prevent direct walking up the ridge.
Everything that could be recovered was recovered. GPS devices were consulted to compare past search segments with where we were now. I heard conflicting distance comparisons but the 120 people who contributed to the February effort and done a comprehensive job given the evidence they had. The hiker, once a 911 call had been made, should have stayed in place and he would have been found but given the conditions on the ground and an unknown mental state, it made sense to him to continue to walk.
I was given permission to hike out but they insisted I have an escort. It is a steep ascent out of there. I reached my car, thanked my 3 escorts and was told I would receive a certificate of appreciation from the Sheriff's department which I will value.
I began the long drive from the peak, a combination of pavement and scraped dirt. It has been an interesting 3 days and I am glad I have this blog to record the experience. I have purposely excluded some images and content and maybe some of what I did post was borderline suitable given the audience. If so, I apologize.
7/10/2019 03:53:25 pm
Grace, gatefulness and gladness...you made it back and he was found.
7/10/2019 03:56:17 pm
Grace, Gratefulness and Gladness
7/10/2019 06:19:56 pm
Again, we are very grateful for your efforts... and for understanding how this is affecting our family. It has been a very emotional day. Thanks... without you, closure could have taken years.
7/11/2019 04:30:02 am
Your pictures were very tasteful and helped me to confirm that these were indeed Dad's belongings... Gatorade bottles, his typical double socks, and a set of hiking poles identical to mine. Once again, thanks.
7/17/2019 11:07:30 am
Mark, I just read the conclusion of the story of discovery, then search and recovery of Mr. Smallwood's remains and belongings. Truly remarkable that you stumbled on them by accident, while the 120+ people during the initial search could not find anything. Glad to hear that the recovery mission was also successful, although delivering sad news for the family.
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