Two hikers wearing short sleeves and tennis shoes were rescued Tuesday night after they became lost and traversed waist-deep snow atop a ridge on McKinley Mountain in Santa Barbara County.
Members of Santa Barbara Search and Rescue reached Joe Degner, 22, and Nathan Krier, 24, at 9:40 p.m. – nearly 13 hours after the pair began their hike on the Cachuma Saddle trail near Mount Figueroa. The lost hikers, who were suffering from moderate to severe hypothermia when found, eventually called for help on their cell phones when they reached a high enough ridge at approximately 7 p.m.
Santa Barbara Search and Rescue team leader Nelson Trichler said Degner and Krier parked their cars at Cachuma Saddle at approximately 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning and headed up the trail. He said the pair attempted to make a loop by stepping off of the trail and descending the mountain into the Manzan River basin, where they encountered large snowdrifts.
Degner and Krier could not get cell phone reception to call for help and were forced to wade through the drifts for several hours, traveling nearly 11 miles before they reached the ridge and called for help.
Trichler said the area’s terrain and recent mudslide activity made it difficult for rescue team personnel to find Degner and Krier. He said vehicles could only drive four miles into the area, after which a team was sent out on foot to search for the hikers. At that point, Trichler said, the lost hikers could see the lights from the rescue vehicles.
When reached, both men were airlifted via helicopter to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.
Trichler said Degner was treated for severe hypothermia, with a dangerously low core body temperature of 90.3 degrees.
“That’s a severely low body temperature,” Trichler said. “[Degner] kept going in and out of consciousness. He had slurred speech and was having difficulty breathing and walking.”
Krier was in better condition, suffering from mild hypothermia with a core body temperature of 96 degrees. Trichler said Krier was able to help Degner survive until help arrived.
“If it wasn’t for Nathan, Joel wouldn’t have made it,” Trichler said. “He basically had to support him the entire time.”
Trichler said rescue members left the hospital at approximately 1 a.m. and Degner and Krier were still receiving treatment at that time.
“They were still being treated and warmed,” he said. “At that point they were responding well to treatment.”
To avoid such situations, Trichler said, hikers should plan ahead when facing adverse weather or rough terrain. He said Degner and Krier were not equipped for the conditions or the area in which they were hiking.
“They were out there in T-shirts and shorts in an area that’s received a lot of rain and snow in the last few days,” he said. “They didn’t know the area well and didn’t let anyone know where they were going. If their cell phone hadn’t worked, it might have been days before we found them or even knew to start looking.”
Trichler said hikers should always bring a cell phone with them, as well as a compass and whistle. He also said hikers should bring enough food and water for the hike and should dress in appropriate attire. Trichler said cotton is a bad material to wear in cold weather because it gets wet quickly and accelerates hypothermia. Safe hiking tips can be found at the Santa Barbara Search and Rescue Web site at www.sbcsar.org.