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Dad's Ghost Stories, Part 3

When Dad was a young adult, he spent a summer hanging around the Sierra Nevada. Of particular interest to him at the time was Yosemite National Park, where he spent some time. It was a very dry summer and the famous park falls were barely flowing. Dad described walking from rock to rock across the nearly dry feeder creeks.

This campfire is similar to those seen on the mountainside that night.
mountain campfire

The big concern of that hot, dry summer was wildfire, and rangers were on alert for any smoke plumes or suspicious glows in the woods. So far they’d lucked out and no fires had ignited in the tinderbox that was the Yosemite forest that year.

One night, Dad was hanging around at a fire lookout on the north edge of the park, where he was chatting with some park rangers. As they were shooting the breeze, someone spotted an orange light in the woods north of the lookout. Everyone peered through the north window at what appeared to be three small bonfires on the steep mountainside.

The rangers were concerned for more than one reason. First of all, the forest was bone dry and ready to ignite with the slightest spark. Secondly, the three bonfires formed a small inverted triangle, a signal of distress. It was entirely possible there was a hiker in trouble on the mountain.

Both firefighters and search and rescue teams were dispatched to the scene. However, by the time they got there, the lights had gone out and all they were met with was a dark, eerie forest. Searchers combed the mountain for any sign of the fires that were seen so clearly from the lookout, but no trace of them could be found, not even an smoke curl or speck of charcoal. Not only was there no sign of a fire anywhere on the mountain, there was no sign of a hiker, either.

The search continued during the day and the entire mountainside was scoured, but nothing was ever found, not even a footprint. All the park rangers could do was shrug their shoulders and pass the incident off as one of those unexplained things that sometimes happens in a national park. Dad went home with no explanation for the triangle of lights.

What exactly happened in that remote corner of Yosemite National Park? That’s about the only thing we do know, that that part of the park was remote and didn’t have a lot of tourists. This means there was little foot traffic in the area and few sources of sparks for fires, other than lightning. Furthermore, there was no developed trail on that steep part of the mountain that would attract any hikers or climbers. It was probably one of the most inaccessible spots you could find in the park. Even the fire crew and SAR team had to hike pretty far into the area to reach the site of the lights.

What could explain the three lights? Were they fires or were they something else? Dad wondered if they were earthquake lights, which are lights that are seen before and during large earthquakes. Some scientists believe they are caused by electromagnetic discharges released from quartz crystals under pressure. However, no major earthquake struck the area in the time of the incident, nor afterward.

Were the lights really part of a sleeper fire spotted by the lookout? Dry lightning storms were seen in the area before the incident. There are a couple of things wrong with this hypothesis, though. One, a fire on that mountainside would’ve taken off pretty quickly in those hot, dry conditions. It wouldn’t suddenly fade out and disappear. Furthermore, there was no sign of a fire anywhere on the mountain. No smoke, no embers, no charcoal or tree scars. If a fire burned on that peak, it was the most elusive one in the history of the Park Service.

Was there really a hiker or climber in distress on the mountainside? If so, what were they doing there? As stated earlier, there was no developed trail on the mountain and it wasn’t a popular climbing site. That side of the mountain was nearly a cliff face, not a welcome spot for an explorer. And why was no trace of the person ever found? The entire mountain was searched, yet no one ever turned up and there were no overdue hikers reported at the ranger station.

This incident is the last of the three-part series of Dad’s ghost stories, and probably the hardest to explain. Three lights appear on a mountainside in the shape of an inverted triangle, calling a significant number of emergency crews, only to lead to nothing. Was there a perfectly logical explanation? Or are we looking at a true paranormal event? We may never know the truth.

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