Despite athletic, outdoor expertise, these men died during California hikes

3 mins read

Fred Zalokar, Philip Kreycik, James Youngblom, and Saulo Escalante have varied athletics and outdoor backgrounds worthy of commendation. But none of them survived the solo hike in California.

These men were declared missing, moving authorities to deploy new technology, drones, dogs, crew, as well as volunteers for massive search-and-rescue operations but after some time, they were found dead.

SFGATE has reached out to a search-and-rescue crew who shared that individuals going missing in the wild during this summer is not a new thing.

 “[The number of incidents] always goes up in the summertime,” according to California Explorer Search and Rescue president and training director, Wes Riggins. He and his team anticipate busy days ahead as more hikers hit outdoors during extremely hot summer.

The rise in accidents outdoors was reported in some areas in the country during the pandemic.

In California, however, another concern is present. Citing what search-and-rescue leaders like him witness, he said individuals who went missing during a hike are experienced hikers but happened to fall into hard situations.

He said that a male hiker is the “prototypical subject” in these cases, mostly the young ones. “That’s a stereotype, but as always, there’s truth behind the stereotypes.”

Once a search-and-rescue employee in Yosemite, Jason Torlano noted that hikers found themselves in difficult moments because they are confident that their experience has helped them so they are taking possibilities. Torlano himself can attest to this as he skied down Half Dome this year – the first individual to do so.

“Recently I had a little bit of a reality check,” he shared. He admitted he was comfortable even if he left behind some important equipment. “I do this all the time, and I feel like nothing’s ever going to happen because I’ve been doing it for so long,” he says. “So you start getting a little sloppy.”  

While the causes of death of the victims were still pending, it is still difficult to determine what exactly happened. The dangers they put themselves into are, however, obvious with Kreycik’s run despite the 105-degree temperature; Escalante’s challenging hike along; and Zalokar’s risk of taking an off-trail journey. There is, meanwhile, little information regarding Youngblom’s case.

The deaths of these men leave several questions, as well as lessons. It reminds others that being with someone on a hike is the safer choice, and to assure that one brings a good fear when going solo.