The organizer of a Grand Canyon adventure described it as an opportunity to trek the South Rim, "one of the greatest hikes in the world."
By September, at least 100 people from 12 different states had signed up on Facebook for the one-day hike. The organizer, Joseph Don Mount, said on Facebook that he hoped more people would sign up for the walk.
"If you want to keep inviting friends, I'm committed to making this work for as many people who want to go," Mr. Mount said, according to federal court documents.
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 planning a large-scale trip.
Still, he continued to advertise the walk, organizing 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, the documents show.
That morning at least 150 people came to the North Kaibab Trail, amazing rangers and overwhelming other visitors who struggled to stay clear of the hikers, many of whom, according to the documents, were not wearing masks or socially distanced.
On Tuesday, in the U.S. District Court in Arizona, Mr. Mount was charged with five separate cases, including making a false report, interfering with a government employee or agent performing official duties, conducting business in an unlicensed federal park, and Violating group size restrictions for park visits and restrictions related to Covid-19.
Mr. Mount did not immediately return messages asking for comment. It was unclear from the federal court files whether he had a lawyer.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Mr. Mount said he arranged the trip because "with Covid and all, the people were just itching to get out."
“I didn't do it for profit,” he said.
Timothy Hopp, an American park ranger, said in an affidavit that Mr. Mount raised $ 15,185 from participants for the hiking event.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Mount planned to use the money to pay for two buses, three passenger vans, hotel accommodation, and about $ 2,900 for the drivers' tips, meals, fuel, carpool drivers, and other expenses.
Mr. Mount "knowingly benefited from running this commercially run" 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 bringing a “small group of close rugby partners and family friends”.
Mr. Hopp said he had repeatedly told Mr. Mount that the limit for group tours was over 11 people and that due to the pandemic, groups could not be split up to circumvent the size limit.
Mr. Mount's planned hike exceeded the limit set, even during normal times, when up to 30 people are allowed in a group, Mr. Hopp said.
After the conversation, Mr. Mount told the hikers that he was retiring as a tour guide, but said transportation plans remained and cabins and hotels were still booked.
"Remember – nothing will stop you from hiking the Grand Canyon on this day," he wrote, according to court documents. "However, there is a target on my back now and this is the best way I know to still walk" and "not be tied to you."
He told the walkers that he would be in his own group and advised them to travel in groups of no more than 11 people.
"Ranger Hopp – this is my plausible denial," Mr. Mount wrote on Facebook. "I no longer lead a group through the Grand Canyon on 10/24."
At 5:00 am that day, a caravan of cars arrived at the trailhead. A ranger on the trail saw at least 150 people walking through the area between 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM.
The ranger, Cody Allinson, said that in seven months of work he had never seen "so many people travel in the same direction in such a short time and space," the affidavit said.
As rangers approached them, many walkers were evasive.
"It was clear they had been coached not to identify with their fellow participants," a ranger said, according to court documents.
Hikers who were not with the group later complained to the park service about the large number of people they encountered on the trail.
“There was no social distance, no one was wearing masks,” one of the visitors complained, according to court documents. "The group size was way out of hand",
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'd put in planning a weekend of memories."
It was not clear from the affidavit whether Mr. Mount had received the bonus.