Search-and-rescue crews on Monday planned to fly a pair of avalanche experts into the central Sierra Nevada to assess risks on a mountain pass along the route where a Camp Pendleton Marine is believed to have gone missing, authorities said.
Monday, the sixth day of an intense multi-agency search effort, marked one week since it was reported that 1st Lt. Matthew Kraft of 1st Marine Division missed his scheduled return date from a planned 10-day trek.
Kraft, 24, planned to traverse nearly 200 grueling, high-altitude miles across the Sierra High Route, from Kings Canyon National Park northward to Yosemite National Park. The route, which rarely dips below 9,000 feet and often climbs as high as 12,000 feet, is covered in deep snow during the winter.
Winter storms have made the search effort difficult, authorities said, and search-and-rescue crews “have noted avalanche activity throughout the wilderness, including along the Sierra High Route.”
Kraft was described as an experienced outdoorsman who graduated from some of the Marine Corps' most rigorous training programs, including Infantry Officer Course and Winter Mountain Leaders Course, according to officials.
The search plan Monday included taking the two Inyo County Search and Rescue avalanche experts to the crest of Kearsarge Pass “so they can begin to clear the route on the east side and assess avalanche risk for future search operations.”
Crews also continued to search for new clues on the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks side of the crest. Two Marines from Kraft’s unit were assisting authorities with search efforts from the search coordination center, near where Kraft’s rental vehicle was found Friday night.
The gray two-door 2016 Jeep Wrangler was found near Lower Grays Meadows above Independence in Inyo County, sheriff’s officials said.
Kraft was to begin his trip on the Kearsarge Pass Trail on Feb. 23, authorities said. His trip was set to end near Bridgeport in Mono County on March 4 or 5.
Cellphone records indicate his last phone activity was in the Independence area, authorities said.
The search has turned into a joint effort that includes the sheriff’s departments in Inyo, Mono and Fresno counties, as well as other agencies including the California Highway Patrol, Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the Marine Corps.