What Happened to Ranger Randy Morgenson?

Randy Morgenson had spent 28 summers as a ranger in the wilderness of Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. A passionate protector of his beloved lands, he had become perhaps the most celebrated ranger in the Sierra Nevada.

He grew up in neighboring Yosemite, where his father Dana was a sought-after guide and naturalist. Photographer Ansel Adams was a family friend and gave Randy his first camera when he was a boy.

In July 1996, Randy Morgenson left his ranger cabin for the backcountry. It was normal for rangers to go on patrol for up to several days at a time and Randy was known to clean up illegal campsites and transport trash back to his station. It was also expected that he would check in via radio with the central ranger office every day.

This time, his colleagues became concerned after he was not heard from for several days, triggering a massive wilderness search that failed to find him.

What happened to Randy Morgenson?

Had he been injured, unable to return to his ranger station? Had his radio failed?

Or had he been murdered by unhappy park visitors he had dealt just days before his disappearance?

Had he climbed to a remote place and killed himself? Some said he had been particularly dejected in recent days, even weeks. He carried divorce papers his wife had presented.

Or did he leave the parks to begin a new life, perhaps in South America?

In The Last Season, Eric Blehm, after eight years of research, interviews, and treks in the country Randy explored, answers the questions. His book is a exhaustive narrative about the search and about Randy’s life, mixed with family history, the roles of rangers, and much more.

The book may have been better with less detail, but there was plenty of compelling storytelling to carry me to the end. Those who love the Sierra wilderness will be enthralled. Those who admire the work of wilderness rangers will gain new respect, especially for one who gave it all for the love of his life.

The John Muir Trail Calls Me Daily

It has been a bit more than a year since Sue and I set out on our greatest adventure, the John Muir Trail, which slices through the most spectacular sections of California’s Sierra Nevada. Over 243 miles, we climbed and descended 100,000 feet, mostly in wilderness. The hardest physical challenge of my life, it pushed me to my limit. I miss it and our trekking family every day.

Can you spot Guitar Lake in the first photo? I left our camp there at 4 in the morning to climb Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. Going northbound means the highest points and the tests of altitude acclimation come early in the trek, so Forester Pass (13,150 feet) was the first of a string of passes.

A highlight of our JMT was a hamburger, Sierra Nevada beer, and cake, served by four young trail angels—at the top of Selden Pass. They were there for just one day and surprise barely begins to measure our feelings.

The mules carried most of our stuff, including our home, a Nemo tent that is pictured near the trail’s end, at Upper Cathedral Lake, in Yosemite. We walked every mile, but tip our hats to trekkers who carry everything and detour to collect their resupplies.