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14 Backpackers Rescued From Emigrant Wilderness

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Tuolumne County, CA – A group of 14 backpackers, some teens, had to be rescued from the Emigrant Wilderness after a wicked storm blew through the area.

CAL Fire reports that the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (TCSAR) team and its Columbia-based helicopter evacuated the hikers to safety. The rescue took place on Thursday (July 1), but a 911 personal locator beacon alert came into the sheriff’s dispatch, late Wednesday (June 30). They detailed that a sudden severe thunderstorm producing heavy rain, hail and lightning, leaving some in the group needing medical attention.

Meanwhile, in the Big Oak Flat area near Groveland, Cal Fire ground and aircraft were battling the ten-acre Vernal Fire, detailed here. With the fire under control, the Columbia Sikorsky S-70i FIREHAWK C404 was able to use the beacon coordinates to fly to the group’s exact location.

The backpackers ranged in age from 15 to 22-years old. CAL Fire officials recounted that some of the teens were suffering from hypothermia and needed to be immediately evacuated. Once on scene, a rescuer was lowered from the chopper to the ground to evaluate the medical needs of the group. Four were hoisted to C404 and flown to Dodge Ridge Ski Resort near Pinecrest Lake where emergency crews waited to treat them.

With that mission successful the helicopter, with two TCSAR rescuers aboard, flew back to the remaining backpackers and spent the night. The next morning the backpackers were evacuated to the Gianelli Trailhead. Additionally, mules from Aspen Meadows Pack Station aided in the rescue by carrying the gear from the campsite some 13 miles to the trailhead.

CAL Fire officials relay this incident is a perfect example of the notorious, rapid and severe weather changes that the Sierra Nevada Mountains are known for and visitors must prepare for, especially in the backcountry. They recommend individuals always “have a plan, share your plan, and make sure you have the means to contact help if needed.”