Teen backpackers huddled together for days to survive snowstorm on Pacific Crest Trail

Three small figures walk on skis across a snow-covered landscape with small mountains on the horizon.
An Inyo County search-and-rescue crew treks near Highway 168 last week while trying to find a driver caught in the winter storm.
(Inyo County Search and Rescue)
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One day after a historic blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County mountains expired, Riley Ramirez and Cole White began a 10-day backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail through parts of the snow-blasted mountains.

The first two days of their journey appeared to go as planned, but on Tuesday — right as a second brutal winter storm was moving into the region — the parents of the 17-year-olds lost contact with them.

Snowfall picked up in the mountains that afternoon, dumping more than 30 inches in 24 hours in some places, according to the National Weather Service, on top of snow from the earlier blizzard. Many mountain communities were snowed in, forcing rescues and requiring additional resources for the growing emergency.


The teen hikers likely encountered 4 to 5 feet of snow drifts, limited visibility and freezing temperatures, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office.

On Friday — three days since anyone had contact with Riley and Cole — their parents called for a search-and-rescue team to find the teenagers along the trail near Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak.

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A sheriff’s helicopter spotted the duo along a remote section of the trail near Mission Creek and landed in heavy snow to take the 17-year-olds back to safety, according to the sheriff’s office.

The teens were slightly hypothermic after spending the last three nights huddling together to stay warm, according to the Associated Press. They told sheriff’s officials they did not think they were going to survive.

Riley’s father, Cesar Ramirez, told the AP that his son’s jacket had blown away and their tent had broken. Though the two teens were avid, well-prepared hikers with extensive training and plans to join the military, Ramirez said, the weather proved too treacherous.

Just one day earlier, a man was rescued north of Death Valley National Park after his vehicle became buried in the snow, according to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.

A dark-blue sedan buried in snow near a hill on horizon.
Inyo County searchers rescued a man not far from Death Valley after his vehicle was buried in the snow.
(Inyo County Search and Rescue)

The man was reported missing Tuesday, days after he tried to drive from Big Pine to Gardnerville as many roads remained closed from the heavy snowstorm that hit days prior.

Inyo County’s search-and-rescue team attempted to search for the man along his planned route on Highway 168, but the storm over the next 24 hours delayed efforts.

On Thursday, almost a week from the last known contact with the driver, rescuers found a vehicle partially buried in snow near Death Valley Road, a rough road south of Highway 168 that leads into Death Valley National Park.

The man was transported by helicopter and later discharged from the hospital. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office did not identify him.

On March 1, a man was rescued after his vehicle got stuck in deep snow near Cold Water Canyon, according to a statement from San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.


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Brandon Henson of Mission Viejo tried to go off-roading Tuesday as the second winter storm brought more snowfall to the area — eventually dropping about 4 feet around him.

Henson, 31, attempted to dig his vehicle out of the snow but was unsuccessful and was unable to call for help without good cell service, the statement said. Hours later, one of his text messages went through, and his girlfriend alerted officials that Henson needed assistance the following morning.

Heavy snowfall prevented vehicles from reaching Henson, so the sheriff’s helicopter patrolled the area, finding his vehicle, the statement said.

Officials didn’t report severe injuries in the three rescues.