Miyuki Harwood, who was lost in the Sierra east of Fresno for nine days before she was found Saturday, survived with no food and only a water filter that allowed her to drink from a creek, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said Saturday.
Harwood, 62, was found injured but alive by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team 19 miles east of Courtright Reservoir around 9 a.m., Mims said.
She had “very minimal” supplies because the group she was hiking with was only supposed to hike for the afternoon, Mims said. “She had a base camp with a tent and a lot of supplies, but what she took with her was just enough for a day hike into the Sierra Nevada mountains.”
Harwood, who recently moved from Orangevale to Folsom in Sacramento County, was hiking with a group from the Sierra Club when she became separated from them in the area of Horsehead Lake, about 100 miles northeast of Fresno.
Harwood’s friend, Curtis Hendrickson, said it was her first time hiking with the group. He said she did not know any of her fellow hikers before the trip.
He said Harwood is known for hiking solo and described her as “a very knowledgeable, experienced backpacker.”
She couldn’t hike out again after she broke some bones, Mims said. The exact nature of her injuries wasn’t disclosed Saturday.
Harwood, who was found in a remote, rocky area, “basically crawled down from where she was injured to a creek – it took her about two days – and she was able to drink from the creek with the water filter,” said Rusty Hotchkiss, CHP flight officer and paramedic. “She was a fighter.”
When Harwood heard searchers looking for her, she used a whistle to get their attention.
She was not in the immediate search area, so I think it was a miracle that she heard those voices.
Rusty Hotchkiss, CHP flight officer and paramedic
“She was not in the immediate search area, so I think it was a miracle that she heard those voices,” Hotchkiss said. He added that the search for Harwood was the longest in his experience in which the missing person turned up alive.
The search and rescue team that found Harwood connected with another team that had a doctor who was able to stabilize her, Mims said.
A California Highway Patrol helicopter was called to airlift Harwood out. Because of the Rough fire, the helicopter had to find a pathway through the smoke to reach her, Mims said. The helicopter flew her to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno.
“She was very exhausted – very tired, but she was very thankful to be saved,” Hotchkiss said.
Harwood was wearing pants and had a jacket when she was rescued, Hotchkiss said – clothing that offered little warmth as nightly temperatures dropped to the low 30s.
Mims visited Harwood at the hospital Saturday to see how she was doing.
“She was conscious – she was talking – she’s very, very grateful that she was found,” Mims said. “She was grateful to all of the people that helped look for her.”
The search team extended beyond the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
14Number of agencies that searched for missing hiker
The California Offices of Emergency Services, the California National Guard, Kern, Tulare, San Luis Obispo, Marin, Contra Costa, Monterey and San Mateo counties, Sequoia Kings National Park, Yosemite National Park, the CHP and the California Rescue Dog Association all helped, Mims said.
The 50 search and rescue team members that are still in the mountains won’t be getting pulled out until Sunday at the earliest, Mims said.
“We cannot get air support in to bring everybody out. They’re going to be spending another night in the wilderness – our window of opportunity is gone.”
The California National Guard provided a Chinook helicopter, a Blackhawk helicopter and even a remote-controlled drone assisted with the search. Helicopters helped deploy search team members, a few search dogs and supplies to help the effort in the Sierra National Forest.
Mims said that since Harwood went missing, the search has been going on 24/7.
“It’s significant – there are going to be significant costs,” she said. “This took more resources than normal because of the nature and the challenges that we were working with.”
Mims said they’re going to interview Harwood about what happened, but will wait until after she has had a chance to recover.
Officials said Harwood was declining interviews with the media on Saturday.
Sierra Club Program Safety Manager Todd Duncan issued a statement Saturday saying the organization was “overjoyed” that Harwood was found.
“We are extremely thankful for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department, all other supporting agencies involved, and the search and rescue staff and volunteers for their courageous and persistent efforts searching in remote country amid difficult conditions,” the statement read. “Their good work is the mark of an expert, dedicated group of professionals that we want to acknowledge with respect and appreciation. We wish Ms. Harwood a speedy and safe recovery and our thoughts are with her family.”