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Boy Staggers Back to Civilization After 4 Days Lost in Mountains

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Scratched and bruised, disoriented and dehydrated but very much alive, a San Fernando Valley teenager stumbled out of the woods Thursday morning after being lost for four days on Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak.

About 8:45 a.m., 16-year-old William John Parven hiked along a creek bed to a fire road in the eastern foothills of the mountain. He followed the road toward a trout farm in Whitewater, an outpost north of Interstate 10 on the edge of the desert, where he flagged down a truck driver.

“Take me back to civilization,” he told the driver.

Since he was last seen Sunday afternoon about half a mile from the 11,499-foot summit of the mountain. Parven had walked 30 to 40 miles. He had encountered bears and wild dogs, had run out of water and was down to his last chunk of beef jerky.

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He had taken two nasty spills off rocky ledges that left him with a slight concussion and bruised ribs. He had begun hallucinating, hearing his parents’ voices at night and believing that airplanes were delivering him messages in the clouds.

His mother was sure he was dead.

But Parven, an accomplished hiker, never lost faith that he would make it out alive, said his father, Michael.

“He is not one to panic,” his father said, tears welling in his eyes. “He said he knew he was going to get out. He knew it was going to take him a couple days--but he knew he would make it.”

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Doctors expect to release Parven today from Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he was being treated Thursday for scrapes, bruised ribs and a mild concussion suffered in a fall down a steep slope.

He was given intravenous fluids to treat his dehydration, but his kidneys appeared fully functional, said Tom Sherwin, a pediatric emergency room physician at Loma Linda who treated the teenager when he arrived by helicopter. Parven raised just one concern with doctors: He wanted to be sure they checked him for ticks. They did, and he was clean.

“I was expecting him to be quite ill,” Sherwin said. “But he seemed to perk up quickly. He came in a big chatterbox, and he’s still a chatterbox.”

Parven, his father and his sister Elyssa had embarked Sunday morning on a day hike up Mt. San Gorgonio, on the southeast corner of the San Bernardino National Forest. The siblings eventually walked ahead of their father, but Elyssa, 12, began suffering from altitude sickness and wanted to stop. Parven told her to wait for their father, which she did, and he made the fateful decision to forge ahead toward the summit alone.

He was scheduled to meet up with his father and sister at 6:30 p.m. on his way back down the mountain. But he never showed up. Instead, on the way down, he misjudged how long it would take, fell as the sun set Sunday night, became disoriented and took a wrong turn.

Michael Parven and Elyssa searched frantically for him that night, eventually making it to the summit. They slept for about 2 1/2 hours on the trail, then made it back down to the bottom of the mountain by about 8:30 a.m. They reported that Parven was missing, and a massive search, eventually involving dogs, helicopters, hikers airlifted to the summit and posses on horseback, was underway.

Lost Youth Began Walking Toward Lights

Parven realized he was lost and went to the summit again. He saw the lights of Whitewater and Palm Springs to the east--and reasoned that walking toward those lights was his best shot at getting off the mountain.

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Over the next three days, he encountered several small black bears, which paid him little attention. Wild dogs followed him several times, he told authorities and his parents. Though he was blessed with mild weather near the notoriously tempestuous peak, the nights were cold, and he slept intermittently with his head resting on his backpack.

By Tuesday, he had begun to hallucinate, hearing his parents’ voices and, at one point, thinking he saw the words “We’re looking for you” in the clouds, said his mother, Maureen Houston.

Several times, he fell off steep crags, bruising his ribs and sustaining other mild injuries. During one of those falls, he lost his flashlight, limiting his ability to try to signal searchers at night.

At one point, he saw a helicopter overhead, but was too far inside a ravine to be seen, said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Gonzales.

Eventually he came across Whitewater Creek, which cuts through the southeast side of the mountain. His five 24-ounce bottles of water were long gone, and he drank from the creek--which made him a bit sick, but, as his father pointed out, that was better than the alternative. William also washed his wounds in the water.

He followed the creek toward the lights he had seen from the summit--toward the town of Whitewater, reaching the edge of the desert Wednesday night.

He slept in the desert that night, then began hiking again Thursday morning. About 8:45 a.m., he saw off-road vehicle tracks on the fire road. Minutes later, he spotted truck driver Mark Bower, who works for Whitewater Trout Farm, which raises rainbow trout to stock lakes and streams across Southern California.

“Help me! Help me!” he shouted.

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“He was rambling,” Bower said. “His lips were cracked and bleeding. His eyes were kind of wild.”

Bower drove Parven--who apologized for being a “bad boy” for hiking alone--about 500 yards to the offices of Whitewater Trout Farm, where owner Paul Adelizi called the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

Adelizi recognized him immediately from news reports.

“I knew exactly who it was,” Adelizi said. “I turned to him and said, ‘Boy, you’re a superstar.’ ”

“I figured,” Parven said. “I saw the helicopters.”

Parven asked Adelizi to check his head for serious wounds.

“He wanted me to reassure him,” Adelizi said.

Sheriff’s officials arrived minutes later and whisked Parven to the hospital.

Michael Parven was at a trail head that was being used as a headquarters for the search and rescue teams when he was approached by Sheriff’s Lt. Bart Gray.

“We’ve got him,” Gray said.

Houston was in her Calimesa motel room when the manager knocked on her door.

“Give me a hug,” he said. “Your son is alive.”

Back home in Woodland Hills, Parven keeps a list of thrills he hopes to experience--once he turns 18, that is, and his parents can’t say no anymore.

They include bungee jumping, breaking a record for riding roller coasters and climbing Mt. Everest. Several years ago, the motto he chose to appear under his school yearbook picture was, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

On Thursday, confident as ever, Parven demanded to defend himself to the media, his father said. He wanted to assure the public that despite a few highly publicized missteps, he’s still a skilled outdoorsman. But his doctors ordered him to get some rest.

Still, he managed to get his message across.

“I accomplished my goal,” Parven insisted to his parents and doctors when he arrived at the hospital. “I walked up and I walked down.”

With a weary smile, Michael Parven added: “It just took him a few extra days.”

Sunday’s day hike was supposed to be a warmup for Parven’s ascent of Mt. Whitney, on the eastern border of California’s Sequoia National Park. He still plans on hiking Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States--but this time, his father said, he will not be alone.

From his hospital gurney, Parven insisted he would be ready for the challenge. “But,” he said, “can you give me a couple weeks?”

*

Times staff writers Kristina Sauerwein and Massie Ritsch and staff photographer Carolyn Cole contributed to this report.


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