Mammoth local Luke Lydiard finds a missing science project on Mount Lewis a year after it was lost
Last fall, The Sheet told the story of a west side elementary school science project lost in the vast wilderness of the Sierra, and the search to recover the “payload” (a collection of cameras, sensors and GPS equipment attached to a stratospheric helium balloon) launched by students from Woodside Elementary School in Mariposa in May of 2016. The mission brought out the big guns. As reported last Fall, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s Director of Base Operations, Finlay Torrance, joined science teacher Danielle Grate for several forays to scale the 12,500-foot Mt. Lewis in search of the payload, which had last “pinged” somewhere in the area, but stopped working when it landed (see “Up, Up and… Oh No!” September 2, 2016). They covered over 60 miles of terrain last year without ever finding their prize.
Last week, Mammoth paramedic Luke Lydiard texted Grate from a gully on Mt. Lewis with the best selfie she’d ever seen—Lydiard grinning and holding up the battered payload, which had spent an entire winter under a mountain of snow.
“I randomly picked up The Sheet [last fall] and read about it,” said Lydiard this week. “I was kind of intrigued. I like treasure hunting, and I have a knack for finding random stuff. I climb a lot and find things all the time, so I was like, ‘I bet I could find that.’”
Lydiard contacted Grate via Facebook, but his message got lost in her inbox and she didn’t respond until months later. He went anyway.
“I gathered as much information as I could off Danielle’s Facebook page and [The Sheet] article,” he said.
He spent a 16-hour day searching Mt. Lewis last September with no luck. Then, of course, the biggest January on record happened and the snow just kept falling. Lydiard eventually heard from Grate and got more information about where she and Torrance had already searched, which helped to narrow his focus.
Two weeks ago, on September 26, he decided to head out again, packing food and water for an entire day on Mt. Lewis, which Torrance described last year as “a pile of bricks at 70 degrees, just all rolling around.” Lydiard found the payload within about three hours.
“I wasn’t surprised that I found it, but the thing that surprised me the most was that I found it that early in the day,” said Lydiard. “I was committed to searching the whole south face. I literally brought a full day of food and water, but as soon as I got up that first gully, no more than 20 minutes…it was pretty obvious.”
He was able to deliver the payload in person to Grate and Torrance on Friday, September 29, outside of the Mammoth Lakes Fire Station. “She was pretty stoked,” said Lydiard of Grate.