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A Man Missing for 10 Days in a California Forest Is Found Alive
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By The New York Times
Published 4 weeks ago on
June 24, 2024

Lukas McClish, a seasoned hiker, found himself lost for 10 days in California's Big Basin Redwoods State Park, testing his survival skills to the limit. (SLV Steve via The New York Times)

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On the morning of June 11, Lukas McClish stopped by the home of a friend who told him about a granite outcropping in the nearby woods that piqued his interest, so McClish set out on his own, shirtless, to explore the scenery.

McClish, 34, of Boulder Creek, California, would not be seen or heard from for nine nights and 10 days. His disappearance into California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park would prompt a search that involved about 300 people, emergency personnel from several agencies and ended with help from a dog.

McClish, a hiker who does landscaping in forests that have been razed by wildfires, appeared to have been swallowed by the woods.

“I was just so astounded by being lost,” he said in a telephone interview.

The area where McClish was lost had been hard-hit by the CZU Lightning Complex fire in 2020 and “looks completely different from all of the other terrain,” he said.

“That’s one thing that I didn’t take into consideration — when the fire comes through like that and decimates it, it turns into the desert, and you’re unable to find your bearings,” he said.

Typical markers to gain a sense of direction, like deer trails or hiking paths, were gone. But McClish, an experienced backpacker who has traversed other rugged regions of the United States, took it as an opportunity to explore a part of his backyard that he was unfamiliar with.

“I’m an avid backpacker, so for me to go out for a night or two is not out of the norm,” he said.

The first night, though, was cold, and his only supplies were a pair of scissors and a night-vision scope. He made a camp, but the brush he used was wet. He hiked across a canyon for better shelter, and the next day set out to find a stream that he thought would be nearby.

There were no squirrels or birds to hunt, and foraging options seemed slim, but McClish said he still saw his time in the woods as an opportunity to take a few days to himself, and as a way to test his survival skills.

“I was kind of doing the water-diet thing,” said McClish, who relied on natural water sources, such as waterfalls. “If you drink a gallon and a half of water every day, you don’t need food until you run out of carbs.”

“I lost 30 pounds in 10 days,” he added.

By day five, McClish began to think more seriously about his predicament. It was June 16, and he tried to find his way back to civilization.

“I knew if I kept following the sun I’d get to the ocean eventually, but I didn’t know how far from the ocean I was,” he said.

That night his family was gathered around a dinner table for Father’s Day, and when McClish was absent, his family knew that something was wrong. They alerted authorities and filed a missing-person report.

On days eight and nine, McClish began to shout for help, hoping that someone, anyone, would hear his voice. He experienced hypothermia, he said, and slipped while going over a rock face.

On the 10th day, his calls were finally heard. He saw a drone, and 30 minutes later heard voices coming from a canyon. Two state park rangers were making their way up a hill.

“I’m thinking, I hope this isn’t a mirage,” McClish said.

Then, a German shepherd came barreling through the brush, followed by a ranger and, to McClish’s surprise, his father and brother-in-law. The group checked McClish for injuries and walked him to the search party.

People had heard his calls for help, according to a spokesperson for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, who said a California State Parks team first made contact at about 7:30 p.m. on the day of his rescue.

McClish spent the night in a hospital, where doctors removed rocks from his back, but he left the forest relatively unscathed.

He had been on trails much more treacherous than the one in Boulder Creek, he said, but this was an experience all of its own.

“I just don’t really fear that much,” McClish said. “I embrace the wilderness.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

By Emmett Lindner and John Yoon/SLV Steve
c.2024 The New York Times Company
Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

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