The Smithson Tape, recorded by whitewater rafter John Smithson in the hours following his group’s rescue of Cassidy Daniels, represents the only eyewitness account to the events of the Sagebrush Mountain Incident. Smithson recorded over several of his personal rock-and-roll tapes in an attempt to preserve Ms. Daniels’ statements, and bootleg recordings remain popular on the internet to this day.

Daniels is only semi-lucid throughout, veering between repeated requests for Smithson not to tell her mother about what had happened to detailed answers to questions about the remainder of her group. Both of these are focal points of later conspiracy theories, as Daniels’ mother, Sheila, had been dead for 10 years by 1997 and Smithson should not have known about the Sagebrush Mountain hiking group, which was not affiliated with his whitewater tour. For his part, Smithson maintains that Daniels volunteered the information unbidden.

According to Daniels’ account of events, the group led by gym and shop teacher Patricia Mercer and including her daughter Carrie Mercer, had encountered extreme weather within hours of beginning the hike. She described high winds, intermittent snow, low temperatures, and a “greasy” fog which clung to the skin of the hikers. Nevertheless, Mercer insisted they push on, albeit allowing for a slower pace with more stops.

Near the relatively low peak of Sagebrush Mountain, the group made their final camp. It was shortly after that the youngest member of the group complained of chest pains before abruptly dying, according to Daniels. This, along with frenzied attempts at CPR by Mercer, seemed to set off a chain of events that led to the deaths of most of the other hikers.

Daniels claimed that, after Mercer gave up her attempt to resuscitate the fallen student, the teacher seemed to suffer a sort of fit, foaming at the mouth and writhing uncontrollably. This was followed shortly by five of the others reaching in similarly violent ways, thrashing about, screaming, pounding their heads against nearby rocks, and even attacking one another.

In Daniels’ account, seven of the hikers were dead within a few minutes. There was no warning, and no explanation; she and Carrie Mercer survived only by fleeing into the wilderness. Daniels and the younger Mercer attempted to make for the Trout River, which they knew was relatively nearby, only to face further extreme weather conditions. They sheltered for a time in a “shack near a big radio antenna” but were constantly dogged by “dark shapes” that they could not see clearly. Mercer disappeared with these shapes, declaring that she was “going up.”

Only when the weather cleared was Daniels able to make it to the Trout River, and she lay on the bank for up to a day before rescue arrived.

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