The facts of the so-called Sagebrush Mountain Incident are easy enough to establish. On September 15, 1997, a group of nine hikers set out on a trip through central Idaho, near the town of Findlay. Their route was not a marked trail, but one well-known to other groups and noted on maps and in guidebooks as a medium-difficulty ascent.

Led by a high school physical education and wood shop teacher, whose daughter was one of the hikers, the remainder of the group was all under the age of 21 and were either current or former students at Glen Creek High School, in nearby Westmont. Two of the hikers were former Boy Scouts, a third was a former Girl Scout, and all but one had extensive hiking experience in areas of similar elevation.

The group was declared overdue on September 21, a day after they should have checked in at the fire watch station near Sagebrush Mountain, and a search was launched that eventually included locals, police, forest rangers, and the Idaho Air National Guard. The area was scoured on foot and by air for two days before any trace of the hikers were found. Conditions on the ground, which included wind and snow as well as fog and rain, were described as the worst in 30 years and an unseasonably early start to winter by local standards.

Rather than being located by a search party, the sole survivor of the group, 19-year-old Cassidy Daniels, was located by a whitewater rafting group on the upper reaches of the Trout River, far off any route that the group was likely to have taken. The rafters brought Ms. Daniels to the nearest settlement they could find, and awaited a medical evacuation helicopter. During this time, the leader of the rafting party, John Smithson, used his Sony Walkman to record Daniels’ responses to questions and her rambling account of what had happened.

By the time rescue arrived, Ms. Daniels was unconscious and she never regained consciousness, dying in a Boise hospital three weeks later, officially from multiple organ failure. Based on her comments, however, rescuers were able to locate most of the remainder of the group, recovering seven bodies between October 1 and October 7–hindered by the same early and severe winter conditions that had hampered the search.

The recovered bodies were all disturbed by wild animals to some extent, which made determining the time and cause of death difficult. At inquest, the coroner recorded the causes of death as a combination of hypothermia, malnutrition, and blunt-force trauma from falls.

Those are the facts. But it is the great grey spaces between them that have raised the most questions and kept the Sagebrush Mountain Incident in the public imagination for more than twenty years afterwards.

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