• Eric Goepfert's wife informed police after he failed to return from a hiking trip
  • The search team initially located his satellite communication device at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges
  • The hiker's body was found under deep snow 

A hiker in California fell to his death while attempting to scale Mt. Whitney amid severe storm conditions and several feet of snow.

Eric Goepfert, 50, was found dead at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges, a 200-foot ledge system that is part of the North Fork trail on Sunday. Goepfert, intended on a winter ascent of Mt. Whitney, left Whitney Portal trailhead on Dec. 13, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Goepfert had a five-day, four-night trip in the backcountry planned. But, when he didn't come home as planned on Dec. 17, his wife called the Inyo County Sheriff's Office. A search and rescue mission was initiated immediately. Deputies found his rental car on the trailhead the next day. A helicopter from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was used to conduct an aerial search, the sheriff's office said.

The search and rescue (SAR) team was able to locate Goepfert's satellite communication device and a trekking pole at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges. The CHP helicopter used a RECCO radar device, which identifies passive reflector chips in some outdoor clothing, and detected a faint signal around the area where the satellite device was found. But, the team was unsuccessful in finding the body.

The SAR team used an avalanche probe at the base of the ledges Sunday and was able to locate Goepfert's body under deep snow in the area where the trekking pole was found.

"Through investigation, it is believed Goepfert was experiencing headache and nausea (symptoms of acute mountain sickness, or AMS). This, coupled with a heavy winter pack and the severe storm conditions, likely caused Goepfert to fall about 30 feet to the base of the ledges on December 14," the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post.

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

"Inyo County Sheriff's Office extends our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Goepfert family and to Eric Goepfert's teammates and friends," the sheriff's office said.

In a similar incident in October, a 29-year-old hiker's body was found in Colorado Mountains, five days after she sent an SOS. An approaching winter storm and the rugged terrain made her rescue worse as aerial and ground crew had to return to base. Later, it was determined that she died from a fall.

Snow in mountain
A photo depicting a snowy mountain range. Pixabay