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Army Veteran 50, Falls to His Death While Climbing Mount Whitney



Army veteran Eric Goepfert, 50, fell to his death while climbing Mount Whitney last week. (Facebook/Elaine Goepfert)
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The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that Eric Goepfert, 50, had planned a five-day, four-night trip in the backcountry. His wife called the sheriff’s office when he didn’t come home as planned on Dec. 17.

Two days later, searchers using an avalanche probe found Goepfert’s body under deep snow at the base of the Ebersbacher Ledges.

“Tonight, with a broken heart, I announce the passing of my big brother Eric Goepfert,” his sister Elaine Goepfert said in a Facebook post. “He was hiking Mt. Whitney over the last few days and as he was descending in the last big snowstorm, lost his footing on a ledge. He was a veteran and a hero to all but even more as his wife Colleen Smith Goepfert perfectly put it, was the most generous person I knew.

“We are shocked & broken as a family and life will never be the same. Because my brother was always prepared, he left a message with his wife before he left . . .”If anything should happen to me please know that I’ve lived a full life and I died doing what I love.”

Hiker Faced High Winds, Freezing Temperatures

Investigators said they believe Goepfert was experiencing headache and nausea, which are symptoms of acute mountain sickness.

Two major storms ripped through the eastern part of the Sierra mountain range and the snow, high winds, and single-digit temperatures likely caused him to fall 30 feet, they said.

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

Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the U.S. outside of Alaska. (Shutterstock)

Another Mt. Whitney Hiker Died in April

Whitney lies on the boundary of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest and is the most frequently climbed peak in the Sierra Nevada, according to the National Park Service.

It is the tallest peak in the U.S. outside of Alaska.

In April, Saulo Sifuentes Escalante, 36, of Conroe, Texas, fell to his death during a day hike to the peak.

(Associated Press contributed to this article.)

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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