Sequoia Hiker: He Never Made It to the Rendezvous

Times Staff Writer

Wolfe Kirson was looking forward to the trip: five days of hiking across Sequoia National Park, wandering through the high country on clear, brisk late summer days. On the third day, Kirson and a friend planned to join up with another group on the other side of a mountain.

He was “exhilarated,” his father said. So when the companion had to pull out at the last minute, Kirson decided to go anyway.

“I tried to dissuade him,” said his father, Sam Kirson.

He hasn’t seen his son since. On Wednesday, seven dog teams and 50 rangers and volunteers were searching for the UCLA junior, who disappeared along a mountain trail more than a week ago.


He was last seen at about 4 p.m. on Sept. 12, reportedly trudging up a steep, boulder-littered trail approaching the summit of Sawtooth Pass.

Kirson set off on a difficult hike from Mineral King that would take him to the mouth of the pass, a crack among the craggy 11,000-foot peaks. On the other side, almost half a mile down on the valley floor, was Lost Canyon and a group of his friends.

Six inches of snow fell at the pass on Tuesday. For two days, bad weather kept a helicopter from searching the 25-square-mile area, about 55 miles east of Visalia.

Sam Kirson, in a phone interview from the park, described his son as “very straight, dependable.”


“He wasn’t reckless,” said Sam Kirson, an artist from Santa Monica. “He wouldn’t go off the trail very much.”

Although the younger Kirson had been backpacking since he was 12, his father said, he had never hiked in Sequoia National Park before. Kirson said his son had five days’ supply of food and appropriate clothing.

But friends say that Kirson might have been otherwise unprepared for the hike.

“I don’t know if he knew how difficult the terrain was,” said Steve Goon, a longtime friend and former UCLA roommate.


Goon had his first inkling that something might be wrong when Kirson failed to show up for a fraternity retreat over the weekend in Palm Springs. “He’s not the kind of guy that would take off on a whim and disappear,” Goon said.

On Sunday night, Sam Kirson went to the fraternity house where his son lived and was told that no one had seen him. He drove north to Sequoia National Park that same night.

Kirson, a junior in Latin American studies at UCLA, attended Santa Monica High School, where he was named National Youth of the Year for the western region Boys Club in 1985. President Reagan handed him the award in Washington.

Kirson participated in a variety of community activities, including annual food drives.


“He’s one of those kind of people who doesn’t always take,” said John Lonsdale, assistant executive director of the Boys Club in Santa Monica. “He gives back.”

Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Knox said the search will continue indefinitely.

“They’ll keep looking as long as there’s a chance,” she said.