A Pomona College associate professor was found dead this week in Kings Canyon National Park days after he disappeared following a solo wilderness trip, officials said.
A helicopter spotted the body of Alfred Kwok, 50, of Claremont on Tuesday on the upper southwest face of the rugged Deerhorn Mountain, which he had planned to climb during his excursion, according to the park. The next day, rescuers recovered his body. Kwok’s cause of death is under investigation.
Kwok was reported missing Tuesday after he failed to return Sunday from his trip. Kwok had a wilderness permit and planned to hike from Onion Valley in Inyo National Forest through Kearsarge Pass to enter Kings Canyon National Park.
From there, Kwok planned to climb the 13,270-foot alpine peak and return the same way.
News of the professor’s death quickly swept through the Claremont campus, and friends gathered at the department Wednesday night to grieve, college spokesman Mark Kendall said.
“He was 50 years old, and his untimely death brings a depth of grief to our community that has only begun to be felt,” Pomona College said in a statement..
Kwok was an associate professor of physics and astronomy who had been working at the college since 2000. He actively participated in outdoor education trips and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Described as an avid climber, Kwok loved the outdoors and shared his love of it with others, the college said.
He grew up in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. for college, Kendall said.
Kwok was the recipient of the Henry Prentiss Becton Prize for Excellence in Engineering and Applied Science at Yale University, where he earned his doctorate. He was a finalist for the Optical Society of America’s Newport Research Award.
His research included laser spectroscopy and nonlinear optics as well as microresonators and whispering gallery modes.
In a statement, Pomona physics professor Tom Moore said Kwok “loved being a teacher.” “He was always thinking about how to get something across better,” he said.
At school on Wednesday, students wrote out their favorite memories of Kwok on whiteboards in the Physics Commons on campus.
One message read: “Professor Kwok single-handedly bridged the gap between profs and students.”
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