Survive! Lost in the Snow

In On the Trail, Safety

Frazier’s SOS distress signal stomped into the snow and lined with tree boughs, as seen from the rescue helicopter before landing and evacuating him. NPS photo.

What would you do if you were on a solo backcountry hiking trip when it began to snow? Here’s a real life tale of survival from the Yosemite Search and Rescue files.

Late in the day on Monday, November 10th 2008, Yosemite Park Rangers were contacted by a friend of Steve Frazier, who stated that Frazier might be overdue from a solo backcountry hiking trip somewhere in Yosemite National Park. The reporting party (RP) did not know Frazier’s actual hiking plans and could not confirm that Frazier had even reached the Park. Compounding the problem, Frazier had also hitch hiked into the park, so there was no vehicle that would definitely put him in the park, might contain clues or tie him to a particular trailhead. These facts made search managers initially hesitant to commit to the incident.

Eventually, during the initial investigation, rangers confirmed that Frazier had registered to stay in Camp 4 on the night of Monday, October 27th, and they located his wilderness use permit, that stated he intended to start a five-day hike on the 28th and exit on November 1st.

On Tuesday afternoon, November 11th, a search management team was established and decision was made to look for Frazier. The wilderness permit gave only his starting location (Happy Isles), two way-points (Sunrise and Merced Lake), and his exit (Happy Isles), with no details in between. That translated to an initial 200 sq. mile search area in the middle portion of Yosemite National Park.

As revealed later in the investigation, Frazier had begun what he planned to be a five day, 40-mile trip on the 28th of October in perfect weather. By the evening of the 30th, he had reached the halfway point near Red Devil Lake, just east of Red Peak Pass at 10,000 foot elevation. The Fall season had been dry and the trails were clear, but the day had been cloudy, and snow began to fall as he set up camp. He went to sleep unconcerned, but awoke the next morning to find two feet of snow pressing against his tent. The storm, the first significant one of the winter season, continued for three days, blanketing the Sierra under nearly two feet of snow. The snow completely obscured the trail and since the terrain was steep and rocky, any attempt to find his way out would be difficult and risky.

Frazier hunkered down in his tent and rationed his remaining two days of food, hoping to be rescued when he didn’t return by Saturday. As it turned out, that rescue was long in coming, since Frazier had not told anyone of his schedule. It was only after a list of missed commitments and appointments began to accumulate, including missing his plane flight home on Sunday, November 9th, that questions regarding his whereabouts began to get asked. During that time Frazier waited in his tent rationing and re-rationing his dwindling food supply. After many hungry days, Frazier began to carve his last thoughts into the side of his bear canister. (Friends of YOSAR)

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