Richardson hikers say they had no warning of dangers on California trail

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by DEBBIE DENMON

WFAA

Posted on August 8, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 8 at 7:23 PM

Sequoia National Park

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RICHARDSON — Ken Connelly and Linda Duvall-Connelly had a close call last Monday when they fell and became trapped on a steep mountain in California.

The Richardson couple planned this trip a year in advance and were equipped with maps and a global positioning device — only to find themselves in trouble on a wilderness trail.

"It's a good trip... so far," Ken Connelly said on a video diary he kept during the hike in California's Sequoia National Park. "I've been trained in search and rescue... I'm a medic!"

But Connelly never imagined having that the tables would turn on him and his wife, who jointly have 35 years of hiking experience.

They had set out to hike 260 miles on the John Muir Trail, which they estimated would take about 20 days. But two-and-a-half days into their journey, a nasty fall prevented them from continuing.

Linda fell 12 feet and broke her leg and foot. Ken also severely injured his leg.

They had to be airlifted from the trail because they were unable to continue due to the severe pain.

"My wife fell at least five, six times," Connelly said.

The couple accuse park officials of being less than forthcoming about the state of conditions on Mount Whitney, and for failing to post adequate warning signs.

"When they tell you it's 'closed' and then tell you it's 'opened up'— no worries — all the damage is on east side of the mountain and they haven't even inspected the back side," Connelly said. "We're talking the wilderness area; we weren't told the truth."

The Connellys said they were not warned about creeks that turned into raging rivers (not to mention huge falling rocks and soft soil from the recent storm) making the trail dangerous.

"I was told by the man who had rescued me that just previous, a Marine had died within 500 meters of where we were found," Connelly said. "I could have been dead, too. My wife could have been dead."

Park officials said the Marine died three months ago, and they emphasized it is up to those who decide to venture into the wilderness to accept the responsibility of engaging in higher risk activity.

"We post signs to hikers that they are entering the wilderness and that they are virtually on their own, so to speak," said National Park Service spokeswoman Malinee Craspey. "Clearly the Connellys thought they could get out of the situation, but unfortunately bad things can happen. We're not questioning their experience. I don't want to get into that. People make the best call and if they get into trouble, we do our best to help them."

Park Service crews rescued the couple 24 hours after receiving the Connellys' SOS. Two other rescues were reported last week in the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park.

Crapsey said a total of ten patients have been airlifted by the park's helicopter this year.

"I'm beyond angry... I'm beyond shocked," Ken Connelly said.

E-mail ddenmon@wfaa.com

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