Eric Desplinter and Gabrielle Wallace, who vanished during a day hike Saturday in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, were rescued Wednesday night by Santa Barbara County sheriff's helicopters that hoisted them from a canyon near Mount Baldy and flew them to safety.
"Best possible outcome we've been hoping for," sheriff's Sgt. Jeff Allison tweeted, adding thanks to volunteers and rescuers from several surrounding police agencies who helped in the search. Desplinter, 33 and Wallace, 31, were flown to the Mount Baldy Village fire station, where they were reunited with relieved family and friends.
"We're both perfectly fine, no serious injuries," the bearded Desplinter, wearing a knit cap and dark hoodie, told KABC-TV. "Thank you to all the volunteers that were helping look for us. We're very grateful to be found tonight."
"I'm ready to get to bed and get some rest," he added with a smile. He and Wallace lost the trail they were hiking up rugged Cucamonga Peak, which rises to 8,860 feet (2,701 meters). At one point they slipped, he said, and decided to avoid more mountain ice by descending toward a valley. But that route, he added, turned out to be more treacherous than they realized.
Searchers on the ground picked up their footprints Wednesday and alerted a sheriff's helicopter that spotted them huddled by a campfire. Desplinter said they survived by rationing their food, sipping water through a filtered straw and trying to keep warm. The Sheriff's Department earlier described them as experienced hikers familiar with the area.
When they didn't return to a pre-arranged gathering point Saturday night, fellow hikers who had become separated from them immediately notified authorities. Search and rescue teams fanned out across 30 square miles (48 kilometers) of rugged wilderness.
The San Gabriel Mountain range, an easy day drive from Los Angeles, provides a picturesque backdrop to the city on clear days. But with thick brush, rocky outcroppings and steep mountain paths still covered in ice at this time of year it can be deceptively dangerous.
At nearby Mount Baldy, the area's highest peak, a number of hikers have fallen to their deaths in icy conditions in recent years. At Mount Wilson, another nearby peak, a trail-runner fell to his death after slipping on a patch of ice in February.