Kings Canyon

Larry Conn - Strange deaths in U.S. national parks

Lawrence (Larry) Conn, disappeared October 2012, Body Found September 2013, Kings Canyon National Park, California

Larry conn disappearance

Larry Conn, 53, went for a hike on the Taboose Pass on October 19, 2012 in Kings Canyon National Park in California. He was a lawyer with Polsinelli Shughart in Los Angeles. He planned to walk over Taboose Pass toward the John Muir Trail and his route may have included Split Mountain and areas to the south, including Pinchot Pass. He planned to be back on Monday, October 22, 2012.

Taboose Pass , Kings Canyon

A winter storm arrived in the area on the evening of October 20 and deposited up to 12 inches of snow. He was reported overdue to the Inyo County Sheriff's Department on the evening of October 23 by friends, and the Sheriff's Department confirmed his vehicle was still at the trailhead on the east side of the Sierra in Inyo County.

Taboose Pass in the Inyo National Forest, at 11,414 feet, is a maintained entryway for east-side hikers who want to access the John Muir Wilderness, the John Muir Trail, or the Bench Lake area in Kings Canyon National Park.  The trail is described as "strenuous" that requires a climb of more than 6,000 feet, 

Search and rescue operations began the next day, October 24,  and continued for seven days until they were suspended on November 1st. The search for Larry involved 56 personnel from multiple agencies, with 10 ground search teams, three dog teams, and five helicopters but the rugged terrain and winter weather severely hindered the search efforts. A total of 48 square miles of mountainous terrain, with elevations ranging from 8,000 to 14,000 feet was searched. Nighttime temperatures dropped to as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit and snowdrifts made travel by foot difficult. Two searchers were evacuated by helicopter due to medical concerns related to the weather and altitude.

larry conn hiking shoe

In June 2013, the search resumed, and a hiking shoe was located near Taboose Pass. A few days later, a tattered tent and several other items were discovered off the trail at an 11,400 feet elevation by a hiker who reported the find. Possible human remains were then located stashed near a Kings Canyon National Park boundary sign, as was a cellphone that was determined to be Conn’s.

Kings Canyon national park Larry Conn disappearance
Kings Canyon national park Larry Conn disappearance

Although a spokesperson for the Inyo County Coroner’s office couldn’t confirm that the human teeth and several smaller bones found near Taboose Pass were Conn’s, the remains were in the same general locale.“It’s not unusual to find human bones in the Inyo County wilderness,” said the Coroner’s spokesperson. “In that rugged high country over the years several hikers have vanished without a trace.” Animals, birds, or a harsh winter can relocate skeletal material only to be discovered years later. 

The identity of the bones was confirmed by the presence of Larry's belongings in the nearby area, particularly the discovery of an iPhone.

The iPhone confirmed that he stayed at the camps located at 9600ft on the eastern
side of Taboose Pass for his first night. The next day he stayed at Lake 11598 west of Split Mountain and then climbed up onto the ridge via the “North Slope” route the next morning, but most likely did not summit since he did not sign nor did he take photos from the top of Split Mtn. He spent the next day using the JMT to get to the Marjorie Lake area where he set up camp and spent the night.
On Monday during the snowstorm Larry made it from Marjorie to the Bench Lake/JMT junction,   then up 3 miles to the top towards the southern end of Taboose Pass in approximately 2 ½ hrs. 

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What happened to Larry after setting up his tent is a mystery. Larry was enjoying himself taking a few landscape photos of the snowy conditions on the way up which definitely indicates he wasn't lost or injured in any way. But, the conditions at the top of the pass turned more severe with
visibility of 50 to 75 feet at most.

Larry did not carry an oven since he only ate cold meals, so warm meals, or a hot water bottle were not an option. He may have also run out of food that morning since he usually did not carry extra food rations with him on trips. A fire was not possible, since there are no trees at the top of Taboose Pass or anywhere nearby.

It was about noon when Larry made it to the top of Taboose Pass, why didn’t he continue down to the safety of lower elevations? Was visibility so bad that he felt it to be to dangerous to continue? Temperatures were in the 20’s, hypothermia could have been an issue especially with the intense hiking over the fresh snowy terrain would have caused him to get wet from sweating, allowing the heat to radiate from his body over time. He would also have been breathing in cold air further lowering his core body temperature.  After enough heat was lost, he would no longer functioning properly and he would not have noticed that he was shivering severely, muscles would become stiff,  he would have slowed down moving less, and less.  Maybe on that particular day he just had enough energy to set up his tent, attempted to warm up with several layers of clothing, got into his sleeping bag, and fell into a stupor from which he never woke up. But if so, why were his bones not found in the tent?

Emergency phone call attempts were recorded on his iPhone, but being at the top of the pass by noon one would think he would make an attempted to get to lower elevations and out of the brunt of the storm, but he did not, why? Visibility was bad, did he lose his bearings, and chose to set up
his tent to wait out the storm? 

It is a strange story indeed for someone like Larry with his competence in the outdoors. Hypothermia perhaps, altitude sickness maybe, together with the effects of the severe weather. But even so.....why didn't search and rescue locate his tent on Taboose Pass, despite the fact that his vehicle was parked at the trail head?