Hiker dies in fall on Mt. Whitney amid severe storm conditions

Snowy mountaintops with dry hills in the foreground
Wind blows snow off the top of Lone Pine Peak and Mt. Whitney, far right, in February 2019.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Altitude sickness and severe storm conditions likely caused a man to fall to his death while trying to climb Mt. Whitney in the eastern Sierra Nevada, authorities said Tuesday.

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Eric Goepfert, 50, had planned a five-day, four-night trip in the backcountry. His wife called the Sheriff’s Office when he didn’t come home as planned Friday.

Two days later, searchers using an avalanche probe found Goepfert’s body under deep snow at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges.


Investigators said they believe Goepfert was experiencing headache and nausea, which are symptoms of acute mountain sickness. Two major storms also ripped through the Eastern Sierra, and the snow, high winds, and single-digit temperatures likely caused him to fall 30 feet, they said.

The man was found clinging to bushes on a steep incline. If he hadn’t grasped a branch, ‘I would dead by now,’ the L.A. County resident said.

Dec. 21, 2021

Goepfert served in the U.S. Army and was an active Army reservist.

Whitney lies on the boundary of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest and is the most frequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, according to the National Park Service.

It rises to around 14,500 feet and is the tallest peak in the U.S. outside Alaska.

The mountain has claimed several lives over the years.

In April, Saulo Sifuentes Escalante, 36, of Conroe, Texas, fell to his death during a day hike to the peak.