A search team found a hiker Wednesday who spent a harrowing six days alone and lost in rain, snow and freezing temperatures in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest, authorities said.
“I’m happy to be alive. I’m very grateful,” said Jennifer Isbell, 27, of Long Beach, after she was flown by helicopter from a rocky canyon several miles west of Palm Springs to a rescue command post in the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild.
Isbell, who was wearing blue jeans, a shirt and light jacket, set off on her hike Friday afternoon. She was taken to Hemet Valley District Hospital, Riverside County Sheriff’s Lt. Larry Grotefend said.
“She was in good condition considering the six-day exposure,” Grotefend said.
Doctors treated her for swollen feet, a sore knee and also checked for possible frostbite. She was released Wednesday evening.
Grotefend said the neophyte hiker had gone to Idyllwild late Friday afternoon for a solo trek to Tahquitz Peak.
“She had never been in these mountains before and was very inexperienced,” he said. “When she got the permit, some people tried to dissuade her from going in by herself, but she was determined to do some backpacking.”
About two hours into the wilderness, Isbell realized she was lost. When it started to rain, she stayed in her tent for the night.
The rain turned to snow the following day, as Isbell worked her way down the mountainside, going from nearly 8,000 feet to less than 5,000. Although she thought she was going back toward Idyllwild, she was actually heading toward Palm Springs.
“Heading that way was a stroke of luck,” Grotefend said. “She got out of the rain and snow and away from the freezing temperatures.”
Isbell also left her camping gear at the tent with a note that said, “I am hiking down the creek bed. Help me. I’m alone. I’m frightened,” Grotefend said, noting that she carried a small amount of food with her.
She later explained to reporters that she thought she could move faster without the heavy gear.
When Isbell failed to return home Sunday night, friends notified police in Long Beach. On Monday, a search was begun along the Devil’s Slide Trail and nearby areas.
The search expanded Tuesday to include a helicopter from the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Her camping gear was found Tuesday afternoon, and authorities requested further help from search-and-rescue teams throughout Southern California. Wednesday morning, at least 60 people and two search dogs fanned out across the wilderness area.
After a San Bernardino County sheriff’s helicopter spotted her about 8:20 a.m., five rescuers were lowered from the aircraft to the top of a canyon nearby. They climbed down, checked her condition and had her lifted to the helicopter.
Lying on a gurney as she was being taken to the hospital, she spoke briefly to reporters and said she was determined to try backpacking again.
Asked how she got by with little food and light clothes, Isbell said, “I prayed a lot.”