Several years ago, perhaps in 2007, Casey Abrams and friends were lost and stranded off the South Ridge Trail. Idyllwild’s Lee Arnson, surveyor, and Les Walker, photographer and ceramicist, both of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, rescued them that night.
Abrams was in town this week because of Jazz in the Pines and stopped by the Town Crier with his rescuers to share the story that occurred when he was an Idyllwild Arts sophomore and before he was famous for being an American Idol finalist.
Abrams and his friends had decided to visit the fire outlook station on Tahquitz Peak.
“We made it to the top, looked through the windows, took some pictures and headed back,” he said. Unfortunately, getting tired and unfamiliar with the trail, they decided to take a short cut.
“It was terrible. We were lost and thought we’d have to eat ants. It was super scary,” he said, smiling. “We were down to our last drop of water, which we were saving.”
Although their phones’ batteries were dying and reception is poor in that area, the father of one of the boys did call 911 and reported them missing. This activated the RMRU unit.
First they saw a small light in the distance and as it got closer it grew; then the wind picked up a blast of air and they recognized the helicopter. “We were dancing on a rock, just happy and chillin’,” he said.
Arnson got out of the helicopter but was still a considerable distance from the boys. He had to go through all the manzanita and chinquapin — legs and arms getting scratched and cut. Finding them, he gave them water, but still had to escort them to the landing site.
“This is my favorite part,” Abrams said. As they approached the helicopter, they saw it had landed on a boulder, balancing on one skid. Arnson cautioned to go slowly, one at a time. Just then RMRU got another rescue call. So Arnson changed tactics. He and the boys just ran to the aircraft and jumped in.
“The helicopter ride was awesome,” Abrams said. They landed at Keenwild Ranger Station where the father who reported them missing was waiting to drive them home.
At the time, Abrams was just another Idyllwild youth who needed RMRU’s help. Arnson and Walker have been on many of these rescues.
But what is much rarer happened this weekend. The rescued party, Abrams, remembered, sought them out and thanked them profusely.
“You’re a big part of why I was on that show [American Idol].” Abrams said.