A trip to Yosemite National Park offered a lot more than a hiker bargained for earlier this month. A major mistake could have led to a tragic outcome, and the man has plenty to be thankful for this November.
On October 28, 2008, Steve F. began a solo hike into the Yosemite backcountry. His plan was for a five-day trip, and he set off in what was described as perfect weather. Over the next three days, he traveled more than 20 miles into the heart of the mountain park.
Snow had begun to fall as Steve set up camp on the evening of October 30th. His campsite was at an elevation of 9,700 feet near Red Devil Lake and those snowflakes signaled the start of the first significant storm of the approaching winter season. Snow continued to fall for three days, blanketing the High Sierra under nearly two feet of snow.
The snow obscured the trail the hiker had been following, effectively trapping him at that location. The sudden weather change would be inconvenient but not disastrous for well-prepared hikers, but Steve had made a major mistake: He had not told anyone of his plans, so no one reported him missing. As a result, he spent the next 12 days hunkered down in his tent, hoping to be rescued and rationing his remaining two days of food.
Questions regarding Steve's whereabouts began to arise after a list of missed commitments and appointments began to accumulate. A key was his missed plane flight home on November 9th, and the following day rangers at Yosemite began a search after being notified of a possible lost hiker in the park.
Steve's fortunes finally improved when searchers spotted him from the air on their very first pass over the area. Rescuers found that he was in remarkably good shape for someone who'd had almost no food for 12 days.
Park rangers note that Steve made some bad decisions, including his failure to leave a detailed route plan with someone who could report him overdue on an agreed-upon date. He did, however, make some good decisions when the storm hit, and these contributed to a successful outcome for his misadventure. After an initial brief attempt to hike out, he returned to his camp, realizing that travel was too difficult in the deep snow.
Steve stayed in his tent, where he had shelter from the weather, and rationed his food. He took steps to make his location visible to eventual searchers by stomping out an "SOS" in the snow and using his pot as a shovel to keep a cleared area around the tent. Rangers noted that "above all he kept a positive attitude."
Rescues due to autumn storms are not unusual in Yosemite and the nearby mountains. On October 21, 2004 three groups of stranded hikers were rescued in the Sierras near the park, and two Japanese climbers died in that same month when a snowstorm hit during their attempted climb of El Capitan.