Author's note: The following is an amalgamation of three sources, all of which were listed in Parts 2 & 3. In order to make this article more enjoyable for you, I prioritized ensuring that it flows well. Unfortunately, flow and in-text citations did not go hand-in-hand this time. So, although I have pasted my sources at the end as usual, you will see only one in-text citationthis is for a quote by Ian Irwin, from an article by Sue Dremann, a reporter for Palo Alto Weekly. I owe her my deepest gratitude for her article on the couple's side of the story, for most of this article draws from her own in-depth account of their time in the wilderness.

 


Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky drove up to Inverness, California for a short Valentine’s Day Vacation on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. They stayed at an Airbnb rental that they’d been to several times before, located at the end of Via de la Vista in the Seahaven neighborhood. They planned to stay there until Saturday, February 15.


On Valentine’s Day—Friday, February 14—the couple, upon returning to their Airbnb cottage in the afternoon, decided to kick off the evening with a pre-dinner, 20-minute walk to a good spot for watching the sunset. They set off down their driveway and made their way to the end of Via de la Vista to the mouth of a skinny path, which they used as a shortcut to the Jepson/Johnstone Trail—a popular hiking trail just over the border into Tomales Bay State Park.

A 2021 sunset over Point Reyes, as seen from Inverness Ridge

At the intersection with the Jepson/Johnstone Trail, the couple bore left, traveling maybe a quarter-mile northwest, at which point two things happened, the order of which is unclear: Ian and Carol got lost, and also somehow wound up off the trail.


 

The video above shows the Jepson/Johnstone trail. We start looking North (the way the couple went), then pan right, to the South, doing almost a full 360 to show, at the end, the narrow footpath that leads to the end of Via de la Vista—the path that Carol & Ian took to get to the intersection in this video.

 

Allegedly, the couple had turned around as soon as the sun went down. But the sky darkened very quickly and they became enclosed in “coastal mist” or “fog.” They became disoriented, unable to tell which was trail and which was bush. Then Ian hit his head and broke his glasses, and blood from a gash on his forehead dripped into his eyes, making it even harder to see where he was going, so they decided to stay put until the sun came up.


That first night on Inverness Ridge was chilly and uncomfortable. They made beds out of ferns and huddled together for warmth, but still, they hardly got any sleep until 10:00 AM, when the sun was high enough that it streamed through the forest and warmed them up. Even so, they knew they couldn’t sleep for long because they needed to start finding their way back to the cottage.


When the couple finally got up and looked around, they found that they were high up on Inverness Ridge. Ian could see Tomales Bay, and they could both hear cars and people in the distance. They decided to try and follow the sounds. After spending the rest of their morning battling through underbrush so thick that Carol later compared it to a Brillo pad, they realized they weren’t getting anywhere. So, Ian, reasoning that if they could get down to Tomales Bay, they’d find people at one of the many little beaches, suggested that they head downhill.


The underbrush near where Ian & Carol were lost
a Brillo pad
a few more Brillo pads, for texture


He led the way, throwing his body against the wall of brush over and over again to flatten it so that they could walk on top of it rather than elbow their way through it. Eventually, they came to a creek; or, rather, they fell through the flattened vegetation into the creek, soaking themselves from the toes to the waist. At first, the realization that they’d found water was a relief, but it smelled like raw sewage, so they decided not to drink it, reasoning that getting sick on top of being lost would make their situation much worse.


Towards the end of that first day in the bush, the couple saw homes up on an adjacent hillside. They started trying to get closer, yelling to catch the attention of anyone who might be inside, but two things quickly became apparent: the underbrush was too thick and the hill too steep to get any closer, and the houses were empty—summer homes, presumably. Thus, they realized they had to settle down for a second night in the woods.


Fiddleheads are fern leaves before they unfurl

Though they didn’t have water, Carol found fiddleheads and other edible wild plants for them to eat. It wasn’t ideal, but it was sustenance, and it got them through the second night.


More fiddleheads with fully unfurled leaves for reference




The couple spent most of their second full day laying low, but yelling for help. Nobody came, and they passed a third night in much the same manner as the second night. On Day Three, their voices were hoarse, but they kept yelling for help. Again, they didn’t move much, exhausted from the lack of food, water, and sleep, and day slipped into Night Four.


Things took a turn on their fourth day in the woods. Severe dehydration finally kicked in and they began to hallucinate. Luckily, it wasn’t constant; it seemed that whenever one of the pair was confused, the other was lucid. They saw imaginary people and would get confused as to where they were. Carol, at one point, thought that they were in their bedroom, and that all they had to do to get warm was to go to the closet and get a blanket. She also removed her jacket, thinking it didn’t belong to her. Realizing that they needed to find water as soon as possible, the couple got on the move again, and Carol lost a shoe in the mud. She kept walking with only one shoe for a while, but then lost the other one, continuing to walk in her socks until she eventually got annoyed and discarded those as well. Even so, her feet were in better shape than Ian’s—his boots and socks had been soaked through so many times from traipsing through streams and mud that he was developing something akin to trench foot, a condition made famous by soldiers standing in wet trenches during World War I for so long that their feet began to rot.


Because Ian’s feet were in so much pain, they had to take frequent breaks so that he could rest. He didn’t dare remove his shoes to check the severity of his blisters because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get them back on again. Carol tried to lead him through the vegetation from clearing to clearing by making sure to find the easiest way through, tearing off pieces of her silk scarf and tying them to branches so that he could follow, but they quickly decided this wasn’t the best idea—as soon as they were some twenty feet apart, they couldn’t see each other through the thick bush, and the last thing they wanted was to get separated out there.


At first, Carol and Ian had been confident in their wilderness survival skills. Both had been backpacking several times, many times together, and knew how to take care of themselves in the wild. But their confidence slowly waned as the days passed on, and by the fourth day, the question of whether they’d make it out alive began to buzz around in their minds. Ian began to think about family and friends, wondering how they’d react if he and Carol were never found. Carol had similar thoughts, realizing how much of her life she wasn’t ready to leave behind. Despite their delusional states of mind, their exhaustion, and the slimming chance of their rescue, however, the pair continued onward, reminding themselves that they had each other and how much worse the situation could be if they’d been separated, or if only one of them had gotten lost and the other was part of the search party.


Dark thoughts did manage to slip into their minds, though, and when they did, they tried their best to address them in a matter-of-fact, humorous way. Ian and Carol had, prior to getting lost in the woods, discussed the idea of being “composted” when they died rather than getting cremated or buried in a casket. While taking a break from pushing through the thick vegetation in the woods, Ian, realizing they were sitting on dead leaves and branches, said, “You know about that compost burial? We might be accomplishing it right now.” [1]


By Day Five, Ian and Carol realized that if they didn’t drink something, they would definitely die. The most abundant water source, by far, was the groundwater, which they saw pooled in animal prints, and which also came up and filled their own footprints as they walked. After ensuring that this water didn’t smell like sewage, the couple set about figuring out the easiest way to consume it. They tried lying down and drinking from the puddles, but soon found that it was less difficult to dip a sock into the water and then wring the water out into their mouths.


Days Five, Six, Seven, and Eight were spent mostly sitting around the ground seeps, singing songs to pass the time. The songs were usually classics, but the traditional words often got replaced to better reflect their predicament. At night, they found that their drinking water glowed in the dark. Tiny specks of light clung to the edges of the puddles and to sticks and leaves at the bottom. They presumed these were bioluminescent microorganisms of some kind.


The prospect of being rescued had not been ruled out for Ian and Carol. They’d see helicopters fly over them at night, and they’d scream and yell and wave their arms around. Ian would take off his shirt, hoping to make it easier to be caught on the infrared cams. It never worked, but it gave them hope that somebody was out there, looking for them.


On Day 9 (Saturday, February 22, 2020), the couple’s hope had all but dried up. Thoughts of death were unavoidable. They stayed near their water, too tired to move, as the hopelessness began to sink in. And then, to their utmost surprise, they heard faint voices. They called out, and the voices called back.


Unconvinced that they weren’t just hearing things, the couple waited, afraid to get their hopes up. But then, a mud-soaked golden retriever suddenly burst through the vegetation downhill from them, and the couple realized—they were finally being rescued.


It took the two humans responsible for the dog a little while longer to whack through the bush, but when they arrived, bearing Gatorade, water, snacks, and warm clothing, Ian and Carol were beside themselves with joy and relief. When the helicopter arrived to lift the couple out of the thicket, Ian was so excited that he burst into song. As he ascended into the sky under the helicopter, he felt a profound connection to all beings who had come before him and suffered any type of hardship—the native people whose lives had been destroyed by the white man; the people who had gotten lost in the wilderness before, the people who had traveled on foot across the continent; the slaves in the South—and he sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”


When it was Carol’s turn to be lifted out, she at first got nervous because of her fear of heights, but as soon as she was above the trees and could see the land, the whole of Tomales Bay, the Point Reyes Peninsula, the coastline, she forgot all about her fear. Instead, she marveled at the beauty of the world, relishing the view more than she’d ever relished a view before in her life.


The couple was brought to Marin General Hospital in the same ambulance, and was kept side-by-side during treatment at the ICU. All told, both were hypothermic and dehydrated. Both had taken a serious beating from the foliage—they were covered in cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Ian’s feet suffered nerve damage because of his wet boots. Carol had scrapes on her feet, but nothing as bad as Ian’s.


Their main takeaway: don’t take life for granted. Appreciate every little thing, from eating a meal to seeing a bird in your backyard, because you never know when those things won’t be available to you.



 

Sources

 

[1] Dremann, Sue. "A Lost Palo Alto Couple. A 'miraculous' rescue. Here's what happened to Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky." Palo Alto Online, 4 December 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/12/04/a-lost-palo-alto-couple-a-miraculous-rescue-heres-what-happened-to-ian-irwin-and-carol-kiparsky. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[2] Cartwright, Braden. "Lost couple found alive after week in the woods." Point Reyes Light, 26 February, 2020, https://www.ptreyeslight.com/news/lost-couple-found-alive-after-week-woods/. Accessed 10 February, 2021.


[3] Castañeda, Leonardo & Aldo Toledo. "'He Started Singing:' Palo Alto couple found alive after vanishing a week ago during a hike." The Mercury News, 22 February, 2020, https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/02/22/missing-palo-alto-couple-found-alive-extraction-ongoing/#:~:text=Carol%20Kiparsky%20and%20Ian%20Irwin%20went%20on%20a%20hike%20on,after%20search%20by%20rescue%20crews.. Accessed 18 February, 2021.

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Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky were supposed to check out of their Airbnb in Inverness, California on Saturday, February 15th, 2020 at 12:00 PM. When the housekeeper came to clean the cottage and discovered the couple’s car still parked in the driveway later that day, it became apparent that something was awry. She went inside after receiving no answer when she knocked on the door and discovered their hiking gear, walking sticks, cellphones, wallets, and other belongings still lying about. Dinner-making materials were set out on the counter as if the couple had left in a hurry. [Note 1] [1] [2] [3]


The next day—Sunday, February 16th—Ian and Carol missed a morning appointment and were officially reported missing. A ground search was launched that afternoon with some 60 searchers from the Marin County Sheriff Department’s Search & Rescue division. Employees of California Highway Patrol, Marin County Fire Department, the National Park Service, Inverness Fire Department, and California State Parks also joined the search. They began with “the trails and beaches in the nearby Tomales Bay State Park and surrounding community,” according to the Marin SAR final report on the search. “Teams encountered very dense and often impenetrable vegetation off all trails surrounding the cottage and greater neighborhood,” the report explains. In addition to walking all the trails, on that first day of the search, the Marin County Sheriff’s Department utilized “area K9 teams, UAV’s, ground search teams, H-32, Marin County Fire RWCs for the adjacent water areas, E-bikes, and a ground team with thermal imaging binoculars and a parabolic mic.” [Note 2] [1] [4]


Some of the thick brush that can be seen anywhere in Tomales Bay State Park

On Monday, February 17th, 49 search assignments were completed. More than 130 volunteers from across the Bay Area came in to help with the ground search, bushwhacking through the dense vegetation around the main trails. “Mutual Aid SAR teams from Sonoma, Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo, BAMRU, [and] CARDA along with State Parks, Marin County Fire Water Rescue, NPS and aviation units from the Highway Patrol arrived to support the Marin County Sheriff’s assets in the search,” according to the Marin County SAR’s final report. K9 units continued to patrol the trails and area surrounding the trails along with a mounted posse and drones. No clues were found. [Note 3] [4]


The search effort on Tuesday, February 18th carried on through the night. One sergeant reported getting home after 1 a.m. Jonas Irwin, Ian’s son, spoke to ABC7 News, saying that his parents “wouldn’t leave all their stuff, leave their car and just vanish.” Inverness residents were starting to get uneasy at this point, and the couple’s disappearance was the talk of the town. Nevertheless, the search went on. K9 teams, UAV teams, the mounted posse, drones, and volunteers combed the dense foliage. No leads surfaced. [Note 4] [2] [4] [5]


The Marin County Sheriff’s Department switched tactics on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020.


Partnering up with the National Park Service, the Sheriff’s Department changed their focus area to the waters of Tomales Bay. Two boats, one of the National Park Service’s and one of the Sheriff Department’s, the former equipped with K9 teams and a side-scan sonar and the latter loaded up with a dive team and diving equipment, set out from the Inverness Yacht Club around 9:15 a.m. By noon, the dive teams had returned to shore with no new leads. The Park Service continued to search with their sonar-equipped boat and the K9 teams for a while, but their efforts met a similar fate to the Sheriff’s. The Sheriff’s Department sent out another dive team in the evening during low tide, equipped with a remotely-operated underwater vehicle, but again, came up empty. [2] [4]



On Thursday, February 20th, 2020, the Marin County Sheriff’s Department published a grim press release. It read as follows:


The Marin County Sheriff’s Office continues to work with the family of Carol Kiparsky and Ian Irwin in an effort to find them. During our searches with multiple K9 Teams, we have received four independent alerts from Cadaver K9 Teams in the area of Shell Beach. We believe that our extensive search efforts with every resource that has been available to us would have located Carol and Ian if they were responsive or in an area accessible by foot on land.


We worked tirelessly combing through all leads and areas surrounding the cottage they were vacationing at and are now calling this a recovery mission. [6]


Regardless, the search continued. The U.S. Coast Guard provided “aerial support around Tomales Bay and the shoreline,” and volunteers, though their numbers were waning, still continued to comb the forest. [2] [4]


Friday, February 21st, 2020 was much the same as the day before. The Sheriff’s Department used “jet skis, National Park Service boats, an airplane and drones” to continue the search of Tomales Bay. No leads were found. [4]


Early in the morning on Saturday, February 22nd, two search and rescue volunteers, Rich Cassens and Quincy Webster, were paired and instructed to search the drainage area at the privately-owned Shallow Beach area. At this point, officials had little hope of finding Ian and Carol alive. “There was no good rationale behind” searching the drainage area at Shallow Beach, according to Palo Alto Weekly reporter Lloyd Lee. “All the ‘high priority areas’ had already been canvassed, according to Cassens. They were looking anywhere else that could possibly be searched.” [7]


Rich Cassens had with him his 3-year-old golden retriever, Groot. Groot was trained and certified in locating human remains. For all intents and purposes, this was a recovery mission. [7]


Cassens and Webster parked their vehicle on Shallow Beach Road and began the search at the beach, working their way up the drainage area. After wading through mud up to Webster’s knees, however, they reached an impassable wall of underbrush, complete with thorny vines and poison oak. Armed with nothing but their bodies and gloved hands, the pair had no choice but to start ripping away at the foliage. The SAR effort hadn’t tried to enter this thicket because all officials had deemed it humanly impossible to traverse—nobody expected the elderly couple to have gotten in there. [7]


But, only ninety minutes or so into their task, Cassens and Webster, having barely made a dent in the bush-wall, heard voices. [7]


They were taken aback, initially thinking they were hearing the voices of another search team nearby. They sent Groot to investigate. Then the adrenaline kicked in, and Cassens and Webster took off after Groot, straight up the ravine, no longer caring about finding a “good” route through the thicket. Sure enough, they found the couple, propped up in the bush, but looking ecstatic to see their rescuers. With regards to the moment that the rescuers arrived, Lloyd Lee of Palo Alto Weekly writes:


When the search team finally reached Irwin and Kiparsky, the couple was elated and shocked with disbelief.


“As soon as they saw us, you could see their spirits were lifted and they asked, ‘Are you really real?’” Cassens said. “We assured them that we were.”


Physically, they were beaten up, he recalled. Their hands and feet were cut from the brush they had crawled through, as they later told their sons. [7]


Comments from Sgt. Brenton Schneider, one of the leading officials on the case, reveal a bigger picture of the couple’s state upon their rescue:


“Their clothing was something that you go out on a light evening, there were no jackets…I know that Carol was found without shoes so it sounds like they may have fallen.” [8]

“[Irwin] started singing a song when the helicopter came, and he still had a little sarcasm behind his voice, even then.” [8]

“We’ve all come to the conclusion that Carol and Ian surviving is a miracle. We are so ecstatic.” [9]

The couple was ferried by helicopter to Marin General Hospital to be treated for mild hypothermia and dehydration. [10]




Their condition was summarized in an update posted on Sunday, February 23rd by the Marin County Sheriff’s Department:


Carol and Ian are in amazing spirits and have expressed their gratitude to everyone for the well wishes during their recovery. They are still hospitalized and being monitored due to the extensive abrasions from the dense brush. They have an excellent group of professionals monitoring them at a local hospital. [11]




 

Notes

 

Note 1: It is unclear, based on my sources, whether the police were alerted shortly after the discovery of their belongings in the cottage, or if they were alerted the next day. There is no required waiting period for missing persons reports in the State of California, so if I had to hazard a guess, I’d presume that, since the search did not begin until the following day, the housekeeper and Airbnb host probably spent Saturday trying to contact family members and friends.


 

Note 2: UAV stands for unmanned aerial vehicle, a.k.a. drone. According to Airborne Drones, Search and Rescue UAVs “are designed to provide cost effective, real time data and imaging, day or night, in challenging conditions and without risk to personnel.” They are equipped with an “infrared (IR) thermal imaging camera that can detect human body heat.”


H-32 is the name of a helicopter operated by the California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division. H-32 is an H125 Airbus, the baseline helicopter for public services, according to the Airbus website.


RWC stands for rescue watercraft. Marin County Fire has two of them.


E-bikes have been used by the Marin County Search and Rescue team since 2019 and have been slowly replacing the team’s ATV fleet, since ATVs are “loud and because of the ambient noise of the motor, it’s impossible to hear somebody yelling [for help] unless you turn off and stop the motor,” according to Michael St. John, the commander of the Marin County SAR team, in an interview published in December of 2020. “With the e-bikes,” he said, “you’re able to search and have all of your senses.”


Thermal imaging binoculars are a common tool in night hunting, but can be used for SAR efforts as well. Based on ATN Corp's and Pulsar's web catalogs, visible distance ranges from 5 to 2,000 meters (roughly 16 to 6,562 feet, or 16 feet to a mile-and-a-quarter). The couple was less than half a mile away from major hiking trails the entire time that they were missing.


A parabolic mic is a microphone that “uses a parabolic reflector to collect and focus sound waves into a microphone, much in the same way a parabolic antenna (eg, satellite dish) focuses radio waves,” as defined in a study that compared parabolic microphones to unaided listening in SAR scenarios. That same study found that, using a 66-cm (26-inch) parabolic mic (the largest parabolic mic available at the time), persons yelling for help located between 322 and 1,190 meters (roughly one fifth of a mile and three quarters of a mile) away can be heard by a parabolic microphone without a problem. Persons yelling from between 1,529 and 2,510 meters (about a mile and a mile-and-a-half) away are heard 86% successfully. The study showed “the parabolic microphone to be superior in both detecting and comprehending hidden subjects who are calling.”


 

Note 3: BAMRU stands for Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit—an “all-volunteer, non-profit wilderness search and rescue team specializing in operations involving difficult terrain, challenging weather conditions and high altitude,” according to their website. CARDA stands for California Rescue Dog Association, Inc—“a group of volunteers with specially trained dogs dedicated to assisting in the search for missing persons,” according to their website.


 

Note 4: All comments on Facebook and news articles illustrate the restlessness within the communities situated around Tomales Bay. There are too many comments; citing each one individually would be a headache and a half, so I will leave it up to the reader to scroll through them.


 

Sources

 

[1] "Missing Person search continues." Marin County Sheriff's Office, 16 February, 2020, https://www.marinsheriff.org/community/news-press-releases/missing-person-search-continues-inverness. Press release.


[2] Lee, Lloyd. "Looking 'beyond everywhere': Palo Alto couple remains missing after fourth day of searches." Palo Alto Online, 20 February, 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/02/20/looking-beyond-everywhere-palo-alto-couple-remains-missing-after-fourth-day-of-searches. Accessed 21 February, 2021.


[3] Anonymous informant (Seahaven resident) in discussion with author, February 2021.


[4] "Inverness Missing Couple." Marin County Search and Rescue, https://marinsar.org/missions/2020#20-09. Mission report.


[5] Hassan, Anser. "Missing Palo Alto couple: Son of missing man says disappearance is out of character." ABC7 Bay Area, 18 February, 2020, https://abc7news.com/missing-couple-marin-county-persons-inverness-bay-area/5944297/. Accessed 22 February, 2021.


[6] "Inverness search information and future plans." Marin County Sheriff's Office, 20 February 2020, https://www.marinsheriff.org/community/news-press-releases/inverness-search-information-and-future-plans. Press release.


[7] Lee, Lloyd. "Two volunteers, one dog and the story of the Palo Alto couple's unlikely rescue." Palo Alto Online, 25 February 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/02/25/two-volunteers-one-dog-and-the-story-of-the-palo-alto-couples-unlikely-rescue. Accessed 22 February, 2021.


[8] Castañeda, Leonardo & Aldo Toledo. "'He Started Singing:' Palo Alto couple found alive after vanishing a week ago during a hike." The Mercury News, 22 February, 2020, https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/02/22/missing-palo-alto-couple-found-alive-extraction-ongoing/#:~:text=Carol%20Kiparsky%20and%20Ian%20Irwin%20went%20on%20a%20hike%20on,after%20search%20by%20rescue%20crews.. Accessed 18 February, 2021.


[9] Torres, Ella & Emily Shapiro. "Couple who vanished at California vacation cottage found alive after a week." ABC News, 22 February 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/US/couple-vanished-vacation-cottage-found-alive/story?id=69146047. Accessed 15 February, 2022.


[10] Cartwright, Braden. "Lost couple found alive after week in the woods." Point Reyes Light, 26 February, 2020, https://www.ptreyeslight.com/news/lost-couple-found-alive-after-week-woods/. Accessed 10 February, 2021.


[11] "Statement from the Irwin and Kiparsky Family." Marin County Sheriff's Office, 23 February, 2020, https://www.marinsheriff.org/community/news-press-releases/statement-from-the-irwin-and-kiparsky-family. Press release.


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Geography, Geology, Climate, & Landscapes

The Point Reyes Peninsula is a stretch of land on the coast of Marin County in Northern California, about 35 miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles west of San Rafael. Point Reyes National Seashore, owned and operated by the National Park Service, comprises most of the Peninsula at a gross area of 71,055.41 acres. Tomales Bay State Park, owned and operated by the State of California, occupies roughly 2,000 acres of the Peninsula. The rest of the land is under private ownership, mainly in the form of townships and resorts. A single road, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, connects the Peninsula to the mainland. [1] [2]


Point Reyes Peninsula, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Point Reyes Peninsula is a unique place. For starters, it’s not a part of the North American Continent; at least, not in terms of plate tectonics. The San Andreas Fault—the same fault responsible for the earthquake that ravaged San Francisco in 1906—is the reason for the Peninsula’s separation. The San Andreas runs right down the middle of Tomales Bay, and through the “bicep” of the “arm” of land that forms its southernmost end. Point Reyes, Inverness, Tomales Point, Drake’s Bay, and everything else to the west of the San Andreas Fault sits on the Pacific Plate, which has been and is still today moving slowly northwest, while the mainland and everything to the east of the fault, which comprises the North American Plate, slides southeast. The Pacific Plate is made up of an entirely different type of rock than the North American Plate. In other words, Point Reyes and the mainland across Tomales Bay can be thought of as neighbors, not siblings. [3] [4]



Since the rock types on either side of the fault line don’t match, neither do the soils. A difference in soils means a difference in vegetation; the iconic California redwood tree, for instance, grows heartily in the valleys through which a road-tripper from the San Francisco Bay Area must pass in order to visit Point Reyes, but on the other side of the fault, redwoods cannot grow. The Peninsula is host to a wide range of landscapes, however—forest, beach and coastal scrub, meadow, and marsh—each with its own unique flora and fauna. Forests range from high-ceilinged hallways of Douglas firs to cling-wrap-tight canopies of interwoven madrone, Bishop pine, coastal live oak, tanoak, and other mixed evergreen trees. The underbrush in these forests can be thin—a few wildflowers, a couple ferns, mostly grasses—or nearly impassable—a tangle of huckleberry, fern, poison oak, and various other shrubs—again, depending on the soil and climate. [5] [6]



In general, the climate on the Point Reyes Peninsula is classified as Mediterranean. This means that the range in temperature throughout the year is pretty small—the difference between the yearly average high and yearly average low is about 30° F—and relatively warm. Climate data indicate that the coolest months of the year are December, January, and February, averaging in the low 40s, and the warmest months tend to be July, August, and September, averaging in the low 70s. From 2006 to 2015, the lowest temperature recorded was 26° F and the highest was 100° F. [7]


That being said, the Peninsula’s terrain allows for the existence of a variety of microclimates—regions that differ significantly from the surrounding region in terms of weather conditions. The primary cause for these microclimates is the Inverness Ridge, a small mountain range that reaches only 1,000 ft in elevation at its highest, and which stretches from the tip of Tomales Point to about where Sir Francis Drake Boulevard crosses the estuary at the bottom of Tomales Bay. Along the coast of the Peninsula, the wind is moderate to strong, averaging about 20 miles per hour. Sometimes, especially during storms, gusts of 70 miles per hour are possible. The Pacific Ocean’s waves crash against the shore and can sweep any unsuspecting beachcomber out to sea in an instant. Heavy fog is common, especially in the summer, from the western flank of Inverness Ridge to some 50 miles off the coast. Rainfall on the west side of the Ridge averages about 12 inches per year. In contrast, the east side of the Ridge is characterized by warmer weather, sunshine, and a breeze that can sometimes pick up a little in the afternoon. The Ridge blocks the harsh winds, and the water of Tomales Bay stays calm, gently lapping at the little coves, its waters warm enough that swimmers can be seen enjoying them without a wetsuit in the middle of the winter. Humidity is much greater on the east side of the Ridge, and the average annual rainfall is about 36 inches. In general, the temperature difference between the east and west sides of Inverness Ridge is roughly 20° F. [8]

Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky, the couple who went missing on Valentine’s Day in 2020, were staying at an Airbnb in Inverness. The town of Inverness lies on the east side of the Ridge, but the Seahaven neighborhood—in which the couple’s Airbnb is located—is perched right on the edge of a break in the Ridge, through which Sir Francis Drake Boulevard passes and eventually forks to take visitors either north to Tomales Point or south to Drake’s Bay and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Just north of Seahaven is Tomales Bay State Park, most accessible to Seahaven residents on foot via unofficial paths through the woods, which cross the Park boundary and join with the Park’s established hiking trails. Most of this section of Tomales Bay State Park is comprised of Douglas fir forest, salt marsh, and riparian corridors, with a strip of Bishop pine forest on the west side of the ridgetop. [6]





Cultural Background of the Point Reyes Peninsula


Point Reyes has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for more than ten thousand years. These people are referred to as the Tamal, also known as Tomales Bay Indians, and they speak the Coast Miwok language. The Tamal made their homes in little coves lining Tomales Bay, since those tend to stay warmer year-round than anywhere on the oceanside of the Peninsula. Believing that “the people are the land,” they buried their dead near their homes. With multiple generations of a family buried in the same area, other Tamal families knew and respected that area as belonging to that family, since their blood had literally become one with that land. For the Tamal people, Coyote was the Creator, having traveled across the water from the West in a canoe until he found land—the top of Mount Diablo, poking up from the deep—and, upon finding it and running his canoe aground, built the world and all of its beings. Like many Coast-Miwok-speaking tribes, the Tamals thought that when a person died, their spirit would need to travel west in order to rejoin Coyote beyond the ocean. In order to get there, they had to get first to Point Reyes, known to them as Tamal-Huye, on a cloud path. There was a place at the end of the Peninsula where a rock protruded over the ocean from which the dead had to leap, and that was how they got back to their Creator. [9] [10] [11]


The first white person to visit Tamal-Huye was Sir Francis Drake. He landed at what is now known as Drake’s Bay, a cove sheltered from the ocean in the tight curl of Tamal-Huye. Drake, as many white men would do back then when they arrived at a new place that was already inhabited by other people, named the tiny spit of land known as Tamal-Huye to its inhabitants Punto de los Reyes—Spanish for “Point of the Kings.” Over time, that got shortened to just “Point Reyes.” Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, is also named for the old Spanish explorer. [10] [11]



Ian Irwin & Carol Kiparsky


Ian Irwin was 72 years old in February of 2020. He’s a well-seasoned Parkinson’s disease researcher, having been the chemist on the team of researchers that discovered the toxin in heroin responsible for the 1982 outbreak of Parkinson’s disease amongst heroin addicts. Irwin was the director of translational drug development at the Parkinson’s Institute in Mountain View, California from August, 2008 until June, 2013. He has also worked in the pharmaceutical industry, having served as a supervisor at the Stanford University Drug Assay Lab from 1978 to 1984. He’s not only a scientist, though—he’s an outdoorsman. Ian has done a lot of backpacking in California’s Sierra-Nevada mountains, sometimes spending weeks at a time up there, and enjoys weekend day-hikes with his wife, Carol. [12] [14] [15]


Carol Kiparsky was 77 years old in February of 2020. She’s a retired linguist. She’s written a few books and several articles on language, most prominently of which is “Fact:” a chapter from the book Progress in Linguistics, which Carol co-authored with her ex-husband, Paul Kiparsky, who is also a distinguished linguist and professor, at Stanford University. Carol is also known for co-authoring a book with Marina K. Burt in 1975 called The Gooficon: A Repair Manual for English, which is a sort of instructor’s manual for teaching English as a second language. Carol, like her husband, loves the wilderness. She frequently accompanies Ian on backpacking and day trips. She’s an amateur mushroom hunter and herbalist, having been taught about edible plants in her childhood. [12] [13] [15]


Ian and Carol live together in Palo Alto, California. Although I have no source to confirm this, I would imagine that they met through their mutual connection to Stanford University. Both had children before they got married, each having separately been married prior, and they have several grandchildren. They also have a cat. [15]


Now, with all of that information in mind, the couple’s story will be easier to understand. Some of these details may seem irrelevant, but I’ve included everything I found because you just never know what’s important. I wish you luck in drawing your own conclusions.


 

Sources

 

[1] Park Statistics. U.S. National Park Service, 2022, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/statistics.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[2] California Department of Parks and Recreation. Tomales Bay State Park. California State Parks, 2010, https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/470/files/TomalesBaySPFinalWebLayout050917.pdf. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[3] Geology at Point Reyes National Seashore and Vicinity, California: A Guide to San Andreas Fault Zone and the Point Reyes Peninsula. U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/chapter9.pdf. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[4] U.S. Geological Survey. Geology of the Point Reyes National Seashore and Vicinity. Map. Open-File Report 97-456, https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1997/of97-456/pr-map.pdf. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[5] Plant Communities. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/plant_communities.htm. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[6] Fire Ecology - Vegetation Types. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/management/firemanagement_fireecology_vegtypes.htm#CP_JUMP_6189676. Accessed 20 February 2021.


[7] Weather & Tides. U.S. National Park Service, 2021, https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/weather.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[8] Weather. U.S. National Park Service, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/pore/learn/nature/weather.htm. Accessed 21 February 2022.


[9] Byrne, Peter. "Tamal Huye: Coast Miwoks Fight for Recognition of Point Reyes' Indigenous History." Pacific Sun, 5 May 2021, https://pacificsun.com/tamal-huye-coast-miwoks-fight-for-recognition-of-point-reyes-indigenous-history/. Accessed 18 February 2022.


[10] Kroeber, A. L. "Chapter 18: The Coast and Lake Miwok." Handbook of the Indians of California, 1925, U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 78, pp. 272-278.


[11] Russell, Matthew Alan. Encounters at tamal-huye: An Archaeology of Intercultural Engagement in Sixteenth-Century Northern California. 2011. UC Berkeley, PhD dissertation, pp. 39-56.


[12] Toledo, Aldo and Annie Sciacca. "Inverness searchers stumped by couple's disappearance." Marin Independent Journal, 19 February 2020, https://www.marinij.com/2020/02/19/mysterious-disappearance-of-palo-alto-couple-has-search-crews-baffled/. Accessed 15 February 2022.


[13] Kiparsky, Paul and Kiparsky, Carol. "FACT". Progress in Linguistics: A Collection of Papers, Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2014, pp. 143-173. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783111350219.143


[14] "Ian Irwin, PhD." The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, https://www.michaeljfox.org/researcher/ian-irwin-phd. Accessed 17 February 2022.


[15] Dremann, Sue. "A Lost Palo Alto Couple. A 'miraculous' rescue. Here's what happened to Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky." Palo Alto Online, 4 December 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/12/04/a-lost-palo-alto-couple-a-miraculous-rescue-heres-what-happened-to-ian-irwin-and-carol-kiparsky. Accessed 19 February 2021.

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