Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, working with Hemet Station deputies and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Aviation, responded to Christmas Day reports of an overdue and lost hiker.
According to the Sheriff’s department press release, the 35-year-old man from San Diego began his hiking on Saturday, Dec. 22, from the Highway 74 intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail for a planned multiple-day hike. When he did not arrive at his pickup point on Dec. 24, worried friends reported him missing.
RMRU was called out at noon on Christmas Day. Ralph Hoetger, Les Walker and Craig Wills were the local RMRU team who began the rescue. “At the top of Devil’s Slide it was pretty icy,” Hoetger said. “When we got to the Saddle, we were post-holing up to our knees.”
A Sheriff’s helicopter spotted the subject behind Tahquitz, where he had managed to slide down ice into a bowl and set up a tent. Hoetger boarded the helicopter in Skunk Cabbage and did a hover jump from the copter about 50 yards above the subject. He slid down an ice sheet for about 30 yards to just above the subject, who was in the beginning stages of hypothermia.
The subject’s low top hiking shoes provided him no snow protection and his feet, according to Hoetger were completely soaked. By 3:30 p.m., when Hoetger, reached the lost hiker, things were beginning to freeze and Hoetger said, “He might not have made it though another night.”
Hoetger hiked the subject to a pickup point and at 4:15 p.m., they flew to Camp Maranatha. The subject, a naval officer, refused medical treatment. “For me it was a perfect Christmas,” Hoetger said, “Presents with my family, then a great rescue and possibly saving a life, and home in time for Christmas dinner.”