Good News: Footprints Lead to Missing Hikers Lost on California Mountain for 5 Days

Doug Williams
 
Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff
Credit: San Bernardino County Sheriff

One of the most common pastimes of residents of and visitors to Los Angeles, California, is hiking in the many mountainous regions close to the city. Whether it’s a laborious hike through the Hollywood Hills or an after-dinner stroll to limber up, getting outside to stretch and move is part of the L.A. urban culture.

 

Though these regions are right at the edge of one of America’s most vast and populous cities, they aren’t to be toyed with; most hikers go prepared with at least a bottle of water and a couple of protein bars, just in case. The dense forest areas, hills, and canyons can quickly turn into life-threatening obstacles.

San Gabriel Mountains east of downtown Los Angeles – Author: Todd Jones – CC BY 2.0

San Gabriel Mountains east of downtown Los Angeles – Author: Todd Jones – CC BY 2.0

This is what happened to Eric Desplinter and Gabrielle Wallace around the middle of April when they were out for a weekend day-long hike in the San Gabriel Mountains, northeast of L.A.


The two had no intention of going for anything other than a fairly quick hike but got lost on Mount Baldy on their way to Cucamonga Peak, which climbs to 8,860 feet at its highest point. Somehow, they lost the trail and began slipping on the icy ground. They then chose what they thought would be a safer direction toward a nearby valley. This turned out to be a very poor choice indeed.

Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains

Cucamonga Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains

After their five-day ordeal, Desplinter told KABC-TV News: “That valley was more treacherous than we thought.” Luckily, the pair had begun their hike with two other individuals, who had felt the trail was becoming perilous and decided to turn back.

Desplinter and Wallace made the mistake of carrying on by themselves, but at least the other hikers knew roughly where they were, where they were headed, and when they were expected to return.

The other hikers knew roughly where they were, where they were headed, and when they were expected to return

The other hikers knew roughly where they were, where they were headed, and when they were expected to return

Thankfully, as both are trained hikers with a lot of experience, they had taken the proper supplies with them – most importantly a “Life Straw,” which enables the user to filter dirty water and make it drinkable.

While it is unclear just how much food they had with them, they did have some. Desplinter told the TV news outlet: “We rationed our food, drank water from a “Life Straw” and kept as warm as possible.”

The other hikers with whom they had set out reported Desplinter and Wallace missing that Saturday evening around 8 pm when they failed to check in. Search and rescue teams were organized immediately and set out to find them.

Although these situations can quickly turn dire, Desplinter told the media that “we’re both perfectly fine, no serious injuries.” Still, he admitted that he was anxious to get back home and have a proper night’s rest. “We’re very grateful to be found,” he said, thanking the search and rescue teams. “I’m ready to get to bed and get some rest.”

A helicopter team saw a campfire, and by Wednesday evening the hikers’ ordeal was concluded

A helicopter team saw a campfire, and by Wednesday evening the hikers’ ordeal was concluded

Mike Leum, a member of the search and rescue team, sent out a tweet after finding the pair. The tweet said, “Miracles happen, and this was a miracle.”

The sheriff’s department explained that, almost as soon as they set out on the mission, they spotted two sets of footprints in Cucamonga Canyon and decided to follow them to see where, and to whom, they led. A helicopter team saw a campfire, and by Wednesday evening the hikers’ ordeal was concluded.

This was the exact outcome teams hope for in a scenario like this, but it is by no means a guaranteed one; it is just as likely that hikers are found injured, severely malnourished, or worse.

And this is assuming they are even reported missing in the first place, which is why, particularly in remote regions outside of Los Angeles, officials urge hikers to inform others where they are headed and, perhaps more importantly, when they will be home. Their lives just might wind up depending on it, just like Desplinter’s and Wallace’s did.

 
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