Hiker thankful: ‘She just felt so loved’ by rescuers

A family member of a hiker lost for nine days in the Sierra National Forest said Tuesday that the hiker is thankful that rescuers did not give up on their search to find her after she fell off a cliff.

Miyuki Harwood, 62, of Folsom, has a broken left leg, a broken right ankle and an injured back – but she is in good spirits, said sister-in-law Barb Hartwig.

Harwood, who is recovering at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, asked for privacy and did not want to be photographed, but she wants to thank rescuers, hospital staff and even people she does not know for their concern, Hartwig said, speaking on a video that was released to media.

When she was found: “She just felt so loved,” Hartwig said.

About 100 search and rescue members combed the forest for Harwood when she became separated from her Sierra Club hiking group on Aug. 20. She was found Aug. 29 near near Courtright Reservoir. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said it is still tallying the cost of the search and rescue effort and won’t have a total for a couple of weeks.

By last Saturday, Harwood was beginning to lose hope of rescue. On that last day of the search, she “was wondering what was going to happen,” Hartwig said.

Hartwig had flown from Minnesota to Fresno on Aug. 24, and joined other family members. They knew Harwood was an experienced hiker, she said. “We just knew if she could survive, she would.”

Harwood always prepared for her hikes, Hartwig said. In June she hiked alone at the Grand Canyon. Hartwig said she worried then about her sister-in-law, but had not been concerned about the Sierra National Forest hike because Harwood was with a group.

But by the ninth day of the search, family had become worried that Harwood might not be found alive.

Hartwig and four others were driving to the rescue communication center when they got word that Harwood had been found – and she was alive. The group pulled to the side of the road, Hartwig said. “We just cried.”

In a written statement, Harwood explained how she survived the days and nights after falling off a cliff on Aug. 20.

She had been hiking with a Sierra Club group on the sixth day of an eight-day hike and was on Black Cap Mountain when she made a fateful decision. “After summiting, I decided to start back to camp ahead of the group, and I regret it. It was getting dark. I tried to get back to the campsite but fell off the cliff.”

Harwood landed on both legs. She remained conscious, she said, and wanted to get back to the camp but her left leg was too injured. She took off her boots and stayed overnight where she had fallen, she said. The next morning she tried to stand with the other leg.

She saw helicopters flying overhead but toward the end of the day they were gone, called off because of smoke from the Rough fire.

She had a 1-liter water bottle but the water was getting low. “In order for me to survive, I knew I needed water and I heard water running below me. For the next two days, I crawled down to the water and luckily, I had a water filter. I pumped 1 liter of water everyday and drank it there.”

She came close to rescue on Friday. She heard a rescue team and blew a whistle she had with her, but rescuers did not hear her, she said. On Saturday, when she heard voices, she knew it was her last chance and blew the whistle again. Searchers responded.

“When I first saw them, it was a miracle and I was emotional,” Harwood said.

Now recovery lies ahead. “It’s going to be a long road for her,” Hartwig said.

Harwood had surgery Saturday to repair a broken left leg and had surgery for her broken right ankle. She will need additional surgeries, Hartwig said. She has a back brace for a compression fracture and may need back surgery at some point.

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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