The promoter of a Grand Canyon Adventure described it as an opportunity to hike along the South Rim, “one of the greatest hikes in the world”.
By September, at least 100 people from 12 different states had signed up for the one-day hike on Facebook. The organizer, Joseph Don Mount, said on Facebook that he hoped more people would sign up for the hike.
“If you want to keep inviting friends, I am determined to do this work for as many who want to leave,” Mount said, according to federal court records.
A tipster sent the Facebook post to officials in Grand Canyon National Park, where hikes were limited to no more than 11 people per group in response to the pandemic.
When a park official contacted Mr. Mount, he denied that he was planning a large-scale trip.
Still, he continued to promote the hike and organize cabin stays and shuttle rides for dozens of people according to court documents. By October 24, the day of the hike, more than 150 people had paid $ 95 to sign up for the trip.
At least 150 people showed up on the North Kaibab Trail that morning, amazing rangers and overwhelming other visitors who, according to the documents, were trying to stay away from the hikers, many of whom were not wearing masks or social distancing.
On Tuesday, Mr. Mount was tried in the U.S. District Court in Arizona on five separate charges, including filing a false report, disturbing a government employee or agent acting on an official service, promoting business in a federal park without permission, and Violation of group size restrictions on park visits and restrictions related to Covid-19.
Mr. Mount did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The federal court records did not reveal whether he had an attorney.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mr. Mount said he arranged the trip because “with Covid and all, people were just dying to get out.”
“I didn’t do it for a profit,” he said.
Timothy Hopp, an American park ranger, said on an affidavit that Mr. Mount raised $ 15,185 from attendees for the hiking event.
Mr. Mount planned to use the money to pay for two buses, three passenger cars, hotel accommodations, and about $ 2,900 for driver tips, meals, fuel, car pool drivers, and other expenses, according to the affidavit.
May 8, 2021, 5:12 p.m. ET
Mr. Mount “knowingly benefited from running this commercially organized” event, Mr. Hopp said. “J. Mount admitted that he would receive a net profit of $ 65.11 and that it would be enough to buy a new pair of walking sticks. “
Mr Hopp said he contacted Mr Mount in October after receiving the tip and Mr Mount told him at the time that he was taking a “small group of close rugby workers and friends of the family” with him.
Mr Hopp said he had repeatedly told Mr Mount that the limit for group tours at the edge was 11 people and that due to the pandemic, groups could not be split up to circumvent the size limit.
Mr. Mount’s planned hike has exceeded the limit set in normal times when up to 30 people are allowed in a group, Mr. Hopp said.
After the conversation, Mr. Mount informed the hikers that he was retiring as a tour guide, but the transportation plans were still in effect and huts and hotels were still booked.
“Remember – nothing will stop you from climbing the Grand Canyon that day,” he wrote, according to court records. “Now, however, there is a destination on my back and this is the best way I know to still hike” and “not be tied to either of you”.
He told the hikers he would be in his own group and advised them to travel in groups of no more than 11 people.
“Ranger Hopp – that’s my plausible denial,” Mount wrote on Facebook. “I’ll be leading on October 24th. No more groups through the Grand Canyon.”
At 5 a.m. that day, a caravan of cars arrived at the starting point. A ranger on the way saw at least 150 people walking around between 7:30 am and 8:00 am
The ranger, Cody Allinson, said that in seven months of work, according to an affidavit, he had never “seen so many people travel in the same direction in such a shortened period of time and space”.
When park rangers approached them, many hikers were evasive.
“It was obvious that they had been trained not to identify with their fellow players,” said a ranger, according to court documents.
Non-group hikers later complained to valet parking about the sheer number of people they encountered along the way.
“There was no social distancing, nobody wore masks,” one of the visitors complained, according to court records. “The group size was way out of control”
The day after the hike, some of the participants praised Mr. Mount on Facebook and suggested that everyone send him a “bonus for all the extra hard work he put in planning a weekend full of memories.”
The affidavit did not reveal whether Mr. Mount had received the bonus.