‘We were prepared, just not enough’

A Bargersville resident found himself huddled on the side of a snowy mountain, cold, with the wind whipping around him and a co-worker.

The two Johnson County residents had decided to cut out on a day at a conference to hike a California mountain. They were both experienced hikers and were prepared and took safety precautions.

But to get back to their coworkers in Palm Beach, they had to retrieve supplies thrown from a helicopter, wait for hours and spend the night in a park office, resident Todd Anthony said. He had hiked Mount San Jacinto before and had no problems.

“It was a planned hike because the weather out there is beautiful and we knew there was some nice hiking nearby,” Anthony said. “Last time, it took five hours (to go up and down the mountain), but this time it took five hours just to get to the summit.”

Before the hike Tuesday, they had signed out at a state park station, which would alert officials where they were headed and when. During the day, temperatures were around 40 degrees, Anthony said. They had planned accordingly, wearing long-sleeved shirts under a short-sleeved shirts, and had light jackets and gloves.

But heavier snow near the top of the 10,834-foot-tall mountain covered the trails and made it difficult to navigate, even though the twosome brought a compass and trail map with them, Anthony said.

“Even experienced hikers can make a mistake,” Anthony said. “We were prepared, just not enough.”

Once they reached the top of the mountain, they tried to go back the same way they came, Anthony said. But they soon realized they were walking down the wrong side of the mountain that had no trails on it, he said.

By 4:30 p.m., about six hours after they started hiking, the men were able to get cellphone reception and called the state park office for help. The temperature was quickly dropping, hitting as low as 10 or 15 degrees, Anthony said.

The state park rescue team found them, but attempts to get the men went unsuccessful. A helicopter couldn’t land or get close enough to rescue them, due to high winds and a dense forest, Anthony said.

So instead, the helicopter crew threw out a duffel bag filled with water, food, sleeping bags and tarps, which helped them survive and avoid getting hypothermia, Anthony said.

“We were getting pretty worried for a while,” Anthony said. “Once we got the survival gear, that changed everything.”

About 10:30 p.m., two rescue team hikers found the men and led the way to a ranger station more than five miles away.

They had to stay overnight in the ranger station since they couldn’t catch a tram back to Palm Springs until 6:30 a.m. the next day, Anthony said. By the time they made it back to Palm Springs, they had one full day left in California before flying back to Johnson County, Anthony said.

Other than wind burn and sun burn, the men were in good health, Anthony said. Due to the lack of cellphone service, the men’s families didn’t know they were stranded until after they were back in Palm Springs the next day, Anthony said. After a night of sleep and drinking water, the men were ready for their flight back to Indiana, he said.