CA - Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, daughter, 1 & dog, suspicious death hiking area, Aug 2021 #5

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Pumphouse363

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I have no problem believing that they all succumbed to heatstroke. I have been an avid hiker for years and have come across quite a few people who were not prepared to hike in extreme heat.

Even an experienced hiker may occasionally underestimate a trail, conditions, or ability of each member of the group.

I hiked last weekend and met a couple with a baby in a backpack. The man had the baby, the woman was carrying a large bag of supplies. I could see a roll of paper towels and baby supplies. Both were struggling, and at the time I passed them they were discussing turning back due to the heat. Good for them, they were realizing their limitations.

I was about two miles into an uphill trail when I passed another couple who had an Australian shepherd. The dog lunged and tried to get to the water bottle I had hooked to that side of my pack. The couple apologized and sheepishly admitted that they forgot to bring water and the dog bowl. Yikes! The dog recognized the water bottle and desperately wanted some.

The couple seemed embarrassed and said they were heading back to the parking lot, pulling their dog away.

Several years ago I went with a few friends on an extremely rugged hike where you had to sign a log book with the time you began the hike, and demonstrate to the ranger that
each person had at least 128 ounces of water. You were also required to wear hiking boots. We were several hours into the hike when we passed a couple of guys who had NO water and were wearing tennis shoes. This despite prominent signs in the parking lot stating hikers must check in and meet requirements before beginning the hike. Another sign stated that 8 hikers have died on that trail.
I agree with you that they may have died from HS. The problem is exactly what you have pointed out - the couples you mention realised they were ill prepared and discontinued their plans in order to return to safety. My problem is - why would Jon and Ellen be any less diligent?
 

IceIce9

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I agree with you that they may have died from HS. The problem is exactly what you have pointed out - the couples you mention realised they were ill prepared and discontinued their plans in order to return to safety. My problem is - why would Jon and Ellen be any less diligent?
Possibly they had planned to complete the hike in the morning before it got hot. And something happened to cause a delay. They could have taken a wrong turn. Maybe the hike was going well and they decided to extend the distance they had originally planned, then they were too far away when it quickly became oppressively hot.

As I have mentioned before, once heat exhaustion begins confusion takes over. It could be that the baby started having severe heat problems, the adults were as well and he wasn’t able to carry the baby. They decided he should sit down next to the baby while she went for help. If they were suffering from heat it could have made perfect sense.
 

Pumphouse363

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Possibly they had planned to complete the hike in the morning before it got hot. And something happened to cause a delay. They could have taken a wrong turn. Maybe the hike was going well and they decided to extend the distance they had originally planned, then they were too far away when it quickly became oppressively hot.

As I have mentioned before, once heat exhaustion begins confusion takes over. It could be that the baby started having severe heat problems, the adults were as well and he wasn’t able to carry the baby. They decided he should sit down next to the baby while she went for help. If they were suffering from heat it could have made perfect sense.
According to LE they had travelled around 7 miles of an 8.5 mile loop. At what point did they become affected by heatstroke? I have spoken to people living in the area who have said they would not do that loop at that time of year - let alone with a baby and a dog. People on WS and other media are speculating on the characters of Jon and Ellen by their social media posts and the limited amount of information provided by LE and mainstream media. I think the reason this investigation is being so thorough and taking so long is because the investigators realise this is totally ‘out-of-character’ for these newly-married parents. MOO
 

deadfoot13

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I have no problem believing that they all succumbed to heatstroke. I have been an avid hiker for years and have come across quite a few people who were not prepared to hike in extreme heat.

Even an experienced hiker may occasionally underestimate a trail, conditions, or ability of each member of the group.

I hiked last weekend and met a couple with a baby in a backpack. The man had the baby, the woman was carrying a large bag of supplies. I could see a roll of paper towels and baby supplies. Both were struggling, and at the time I passed them they were discussing turning back due to the heat. Good for them, they were realizing their limitations.

I was about two miles into an uphill trail when I passed another couple who had an Australian shepherd. The dog lunged and tried to get to the water bottle I had hooked to that side of my pack. The couple apologized and sheepishly admitted that they forgot to bring water and the dog bowl. Yikes! The dog recognized the water bottle and desperately wanted some.

The couple seemed embarrassed and said they were heading back to the parking lot, pulling their dog away.

Several years ago I went with a few friends on an extremely rugged hike where you had to sign a log book with the time you began the hike, and demonstrate to the ranger that
each person had at least 128 ounces of water. You were also required to wear hiking boots. We were several hours into the hike when we passed a couple of guys who had NO water and were wearing tennis shoes. This despite prominent signs in the parking lot stating hikers must check in and meet requirements before beginning the hike. Another sign stated that 8 hikers have died on that trail.

BBM

This is so true.

I hiked a small mountain in the Adirondacks this weekend (anyone not familiar with NY mountains, just know that they aren't mammoth in height, but they are typically straight up climbing over some incredibly rugged terrain and sure ain't for sissies...) and I took care to look at each person I passed, just to see how prepared they were. I was astounded -- out of the 58 people we passed on the trail, less than half were wearing hiking boots/shoes, only 23 people were carrying a visible water bottle, and 18 were carrying backpacks (there were several young women with tiny little packs that would hold a phone and maybe some lip gloss, but not a bottle of water), and we encountered 3 women carrying infants less than six months old (my cousin will talk to anyone who stands still long enough and asked the age of each baby.) Of the 3 babies, 1 was in a front carrier, one was tied to the woman by a wrap-thingy, and one was just cradled in the woman's arms. None of these women were wearing hiking boots/shoes. I spoke to the woman with the six-week old baby (front carrier), and she said that she didn't dare take her eyes off her feet. We also ran into three male solo hikers who had enormous packs and were outfitted like they intended on climbing Everest, but hey, overkill is good sometimes.

I guess I just mean to say that people take risks and make poor judgement calls every single day, and most of the time they come out none the worse for wear. I believe that this family did just that, and unfortunately those decisions had fatal consequences. I don't believe that whatever happened was nefarious in nature, I think they just badly underestimated the conditions and succumbed to the elements.

MOO
 

IceIce9

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What is the alternative? Someone who wanted them dead forced them out on the hike, after making them purchase a new baby carrier? Forced them to walk 7 miles until they suffered from heatstroke?

If someone wanted to murder the family there would have been easier ways. And why would someone want to kill the baby? She was far too young to identify a murderer or be a witness.

I’m honestly trying to think of any scenario that would fit, besides the obvious death by heatstroke.
 

Pumphouse363

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BBM

This is so true.

I hiked a small mountain in the Adirondacks this weekend (anyone not familiar with NY mountains, just know that they aren't mammoth in height, but they are typically straight up climbing over some incredibly rugged terrain and sure ain't for sissies...) and I took care to look at each person I passed, just to see how prepared they were. I was astounded -- out of the 58 people we passed on the trail, less than half were wearing hiking boots/shoes, only 23 people were carrying a visible water bottle, and 18 were carrying backpacks (there were several young women with tiny little packs that would hold a phone and maybe some lip gloss, but not a bottle of water), and we encountered 3 women carrying infants less than six months old (my cousin will talk to anyone who stands still long enough and asked the age of each baby.) Of the 3 babies, 1 was in a front carrier, one was tied to the woman by a wrap-thingy, and one was just cradled in the woman's arms. None of these women were wearing hiking boots/shoes. I spoke to the woman with the six-week old baby (front carrier), and she said that she didn't dare take her eyes off her feet. We also ran into three male solo hikers who had enormous packs and were outfitted like they intended on climbing Everest, but hey, overkill is good sometimes.

I guess I just mean to say that people take risks and make poor judgement calls every single day, and most of the time they come out none the worse for wear. I believe that this family did just that, and unfortunately those decisions had fatal consequences. I don't believe that whatever happened was nefarious in nature, I think they just badly underestimated the conditions and succumbed to the elements.

MOO
Thank you for sharing your experiences. I realise that there are lots of people who make terrible decisions without suffering dire consequences (myself included). I understand that this may have been a series of errors culminating in this tragic loss of life. I certainly do not want to believe there are nefarious circumstances. I’m just bewildered.
 

Pumphouse363

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What is the alternative? Someone who wanted them dead forced them out on the hike, after making them purchase a new baby carrier? Forced them to walk 7 miles until they suffered from heatstroke?

If someone wanted to murder the family there would have been easier ways. And why would someone want to kill the baby? She was far too young to identify a murderer or be a witness.

I’m honestly trying to think of any scenario that would fit, besides the obvious death by heatstroke.
There are many more alternatives than those you suggest here (heatstroke or murder or both) imo
It doesn’t have to be anyone who wanted to murder the whole family. Maybe only one of the adults and the others were ‘collateral damage’?
Maybe they met someone unsavoury on the trail who they wanted to avoid so had to travel much further than they originally intended. Reading about events in the news both in and around Mariposa County, there are some very ‘unsavoury characters’ around. The area they were found in is quite remote, locals don’t go there at certain times of the year, and those knowledgeable about Yosemite and Mariposa Trails advise visitors accordingly. The whole area is an ideal location for anyone considering somewhere to hide illegal activities. Marijuana is not the only drug that’s traded in the US.
I’m not suggesting that Jon and Ellen were involved in anything like that, but they may have encountered someone who is involved and took an entirely different route to avoid being seen by them.
 
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If this was mentioned, apologies in advance.

I have 5 children. We hike a lot in all conditions in Colorado. If my child in the hiking pack was having medical issues, they would not still be in the pack. The dad was sitting with the baby in the pack next to him. Weird, no? If she had even been unconscious there’s just no way, in my opinion, she’d still be in that carrier.

So, it leads me to believe she was fine or at least not symptomatic when whatever befell the parents had taken place.

Also, what mother would leave baby with an unconscious father? No way, imho. (Nothing to slight the mother intended, just my personal feeling on that part of things).
 

IceIce9

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If this was mentioned, apologies in advance.

I have 5 children. We hike a lot in all conditions in Colorado. If my child in the hiking pack was having medical issues, they would not still be in the pack. The dad was sitting with the baby in the pack next to him. Weird, no? If she had even been unconscious there’s just no way, in my opinion, she’d still be in that carrier.

So, it leads me to believe she was fine or at least not symptomatic when whatever befell the parents had taken place.

Also, what mother would leave baby with an unconscious father? No way, imho. (Nothing to slight the mother intended, just my personal feeling on that part of things).
This makes perfect sense, as long as rational thinking is involved. But if the adults were suffering from heatstroke their thoughts could have been disjointed.

When you begin experiencing heat exhaustion, especially as it progresses toward heatstroke, you can see things that aren’t there, like shade or a pool of water. Directions and distances become muddled. You can think you are closer to your car than you really are, or you might walk the opposite direction. You might think you see water in a distance, or shade on the trail.

It could be that the dad began suffering from heatstroke first, or to a greater extent than his wife. Maybe he couldn’t hold the baby any longer and the mom put her in the pack rather than lay her down on the ground.

If mom was in better shape maybe she thought she could make it back to the car. Were the car keys found on her?

The biggest thing that makes me think they weren’t thinking clearly is the dog being tethered. I would think letting the dog go find help would be a good idea.

All this is just speculation. I can see how it could have happened, but there are other possible scenarios.

Sadly, it may never be determined what actually happened. A tragedy.
 

rahod1

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The dad was sitting with the baby in the pack next to him. Weird, no? If she had even been unconscious there’s just no way, in my opinion, she’d still be in that carrier.

So, it leads me to believe she was fine or at least not symptomatic when whatever befell the parents had taken place.


Also, what mother would leave baby with an unconscious father? No way, imho. (Nothing to slight the mother intended, just my personal feeling on that part of things).

Agree 100% on this. MOO>>> JG was in some distress and had to sit down. This necessitated taking the back back/baby off and setting it aside. They were all probably in some state of distress at that time, but EC remained with the other two (and attached dog) for a period of time. At some point, EC may have decided to venture ahead, collapsing BEFORE JG (and infant?) succumbed. It's very possible, being a switchback road, that EC was out of JG's line of sight. In any event, JG would be unable to get up once he sat down. All MOO
 

Bekind89

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I have told the story of my near fatal heat stroke. Born and raised in the fetid, humid, HOT South, I was totally acclimated to extreme heat. While I can repeat my experience, what I am unable to convey is how quickly it disables you. Once you realize you are in trouble, you are rendered completely helpless. I was surrounded by a crowd of people on a beach, yet so utterly weak and helpless that I was UNABLE TO SAY THE WORD, "HELP!" I could not raise my arm, move my legs, could not crawl. It appeared to everyone that I was merely sunbathing. One women said she " had the oddest feeling " that something was wrong with me. I was losing consciousness and again, it just looked as if I had fallen asleep while sunbathing, lying on my blanket.
For whatever reason, this lady felt something was wrong and they carried me to the shade and packed me in ice while we waited on the EMT"s. Even after being packed in ice for 10 minutes my temperature was still 105F. Off I went to the ER where I was given an IV and still packed in ice.
He may not have been capable of holding his baby. He may have left her in her baby backpack for her safety. They were on a very narrow, steep trail and it may have been getting dark, we do not know. Before I started to lose consciousness I just dropped down in a sitting position, much like his is described. My muscles were like rubber. Useless.
By the time you realize how much danger you are in, it is really almost too late to save yourself. That happening on a steep trail with no cold water, no emergency service, no cell phone reception, with a little baby and little pet is fatal.
You have about 30 minutes to reverse the fatal outcome which requires ice, air conditioning, paramedics. They did not have any of those things. It can happen to anyone at anytime in extreme heat. It happens to hundreds of people every year.
This is very heartbreaking. To lose such a young family is so tragic. It must be unacceptable to their loved ones that something so preventable took their loved ones away. Something as benign and ordinary as a day hike. I am so very sorry for their friends and family.
 
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MrsEmmaPeel

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If heatstroke is as horrific as I've read, it would seem the baby could be dead, and the parents so disoriented, their last thoughts, if anything, were of their own survival. I assume a person would dissolve into a primal state before shutdown. Seeking relief at all costs. This is the harsh reality, imo. G collapsed, E stumbling forward. Baby, dog dead.
 

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It could be that they were feeling very strong after the first several miles and underestimated how quickly the heat would set it, or how long it would take them to finish the distance.

Even experienced hikers make poor decisions at times. (Raising my hand)
Preparing for heat is difficult.

I hiked out to Nobles Camp, where Mostly Harmless died, last November. 5 miles in and 5 miles out, no big deal.

It had been a horrible summer and fall and there was 10's of inches of rain so the whole area was flooded. It's a swamp after all. I prepared by taking a full 3L bladder and 2 separate 1L bottles of water. One I kept with me and the other I dropped 2.5 miles in, so I'd have a water stash for the way back.

It was a brutal hike. The bugs laughed at the Off and I was bitten relentlessly. Made it to Nobles, it was easy to find the campsite. It was treed well and I decided to stay a couple hours til the sun was back a bit. I ate lunch, rested, searched around quite a bit and started back. Around 6 miles in (5 out, 1 back) I was out of water. Bone dry, the 3L bladder was done as was the 1L bottle. I had to get to that stashed bottle to make it back. Although I stashed it by a trail sign, I had difficulty finding it. I eventually did find it and drank almost the whole thing by the time I got to my truck.

I was fortunate enough to prepare for the worst, and it saved me. I've hiked after running out of water before and it's not easy. I've altered a couple of preps since then. Don't want to be hiking without water in the heat, ever again. For me once was enough, for them maybe it was once was once too much.
 

Bekind89

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If heatstroke is as horrific as I've read, it would seem the baby could be dead, and the parents so disoriented, their last thoughts, if anything, were of their own survival. I assume a person would dissolve into a primal state before shutdown. Seeking relief at all costs. This is the harsh reality, imo. G collapsed, E stumbling forward. Baby, dog dead.

I truly feel it started with the little dog. He became sick first. JG probably tried to carry him, while also continuing to carry the baby. I vividly remember my collapse into a sitting position. I do have gaps in my memory, but that has always been such a clear memeroy. I think because subconsciously I knew I would not be getting up again, not own my own. That is why I have always felt that JG became fatality ill first. It is too difficult to speculate about the baby, I just can't.
It is impossible to describe how it affects your thinking. You are not in reality. Everything for me felt as if I were almost in a dream like state. Surreal. Reaction time slows then stops in an amazingly short period of time.
I have a morbid fear of heat now. I absolutely dread summers. I loathe summer.
Many people who work outside and have done so for years have heat strokes, especially now with global warming.
It literally happens to anyone, anywhere every year. Had they stayed at the water they may have been able to survive, idk. But they would have stood a much better chance than on that God forsaken switchback.
I think they simply went on the wrong trail that day, not the one they meant to take. We will probably never know and that has to be haunting to their loved ones.
ETA- The experienced hikers here have stressed the importance of paper maps and I totally agree. Those trails are very confusing. HCT, HCR, ECT. Without a paper map it would be very easy to take the wrong trail. Jmo.
 
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rahod1

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If heatstroke is as horrific as I've read, it would seem the baby could be dead, and the parents so disoriented, their last thoughts, if anything, were of their own survival. I assume a person would dissolve into a primal state before shutdown. Seeking relief at all costs. This is the harsh reality, imo. G collapsed, E stumbling forward. Baby, dog dead.
I don't think JG collapsed....MOO>>. He had time to take off the pack and sit down. I find it hard to picture JG taking off the pack with baby in it, if the infant had already perished. MOO
 

Bekind89

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I don't think JG collapsed....MOO>>. He had time to take off the pack and sit down. I find it hard to picture JG taking off the pack with baby in it, if the infant had already perished. MOO
EC may have taken his backpack off for him, we do not know. It really wouldn't matter if he took it off, he was weak and getting weaker, the sun brutally and relentlessly beating down on him. They were trapped. Just heartbreaking. Jmo
 

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Hey, all. Haven’t posted in a while.

Supposing the dog was the first to show signs of illness, maybe from heat, and possibly having to be carried (as I believe was first posited by @Lexiintoronto in Thread 1), it would make sense to me that EC might have left a healthy but flagging JG with the baby and dog so that she could quickly return to the car for some necessity…cold water? Ice? Cooler? in order to help with the sick dog. If EC believed JG was okay to care for the two dependents, with the sick dog tethered to JG so as not to try to follow EC, and the baby off of JG’s back so as to keep them both cooler, she might well have dashed off unencumbered to the car, then tried to return to her family, with some necessity. If I put myself and my dh, child, and dog in their position, under those circumstances, I could see it unfolding that way. Ultimately, the heat would have caught up to each family member in his/her own time. Moo.

As an aside, my family often hikes with a cooler and snacks waiting in the car, which we generally try to park in a shady spot if hiking in heat. I have no idea if this would have been a habit of the Gerrish-Chungs. Simply my own experience and imo.
 

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I can really only think of one plausible explanation that gets the family into this situation.

That is, that they intended to do a much shorter walk that morning.

But something went wrong while they were out there.

Possible things that could go wrong (these scenarios can be mixed and matched -- I think more than one thing happened):

The dog ran off and wouldn't return and they went looking.

or

They got partway down HC and someone was already in heat trouble (probably dog or baby) and a decision was made that getting to the cool river was a better option than having to go back up in the already-increasing heat. Once at the river they may have thought that following the river upstream would reduce the amount of unshaded trail they needed to complete to get back to the truck

or

They simply got distracted on the downhill leg and ended up near the river even though they had intended to turn around much sooner.

or

They got partway down HC, realized it was too hot, but thought that rather than retrace their path they would take a "shortcut", which led to getting lost and ending up on the SL trail.

or? other similar situations.

To me the idea of foul play in these circumstances is far less credible than the above possibilities.

I also don't think they blithely underestimated the hike or simply thought they could do the loop in spite of the heat, but I do think they didn't assess the grave risk of something going wrong on their easy planned hike in such severe conditions.

A similar thought for me in a comparably risky situation might be:

what will I do if my vehicle won't start when I get back to the truck? could I safely walk to help, is there a safe place where I could wait for help, etc.

In that magnitude of heat I probably wouldn't take a chance even if there were cell service at the truck parking area -- the risk of having to wait in the heat for help would be beyond my personal risk tolerance. MOO
 

Bekind89

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Hey, all. Haven’t posted in a while.

Supposing the dog was the first to show signs of illness, maybe from heat, and possibly having to be carried (as I believe was first posited by @Lexiintoronto in Thread 1), it would make sense to me that EC might have left a healthy but flagging JG with the baby and dog so that she could quickly return to the car for some necessity…cold water? Ice? Cooler? in order to help with the sick dog. If EC believed JG was okay to care for the two dependents, with the sick dog tethered to JG so as not to try to follow EC, and the baby off of JG’s back so as to keep them both cooler, she might well have dashed off unencumbered to the car, then tried to return to her family, with some necessity. If I put myself and my dh, child, and dog in their position, under those circumstances, I could see it unfolding that way. Ultimately, the heat would have caught up to each family member in his/her own time. Moo.

As an aside, my family often hikes with a cooler and snacks waiting in the car, which we generally try to park in a shady spot if hiking in heat. I have no idea if this would have been a habit of the Gerrish-Chungs. Simply my own experience and imo.
I think that is very likely. I do wish we knew where they were on the SB. because I would like to know if Ellen and Jon could still see each other, and to see how far apart they were from each other.
 
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