The number-one rule of hiking? Never leave without telling a friend or family member where you’re headed.
We’ve all heard stories of lone hikers becoming stranded after failing to tell anyone where they planned to hike, including the infamous story of Aron Lee Ralston, the man who cut off his own arm after getting it trapped beneath a boulder.
These stories show how vital it is to make sure people can find you, no matter how experienced you may be.
One hiker, 45-year-old Rene Compean, was one of the thousands of Californian outdoorsmen who broke this number-one hiking rule.
He didn’t message his coordinates to another person before he set off on his trip into the mountains – and it nearly cost him his life.
There was just one thing that saved Rene’s life when he went missing: a single photo.
Let’s rewind back to the moment that Rene was reported missing at about 6 p.m. on Monday.
It’s never good news when a hiker disappears, as it can often mean they’ve fallen ill or suffered an injury that has prevented them from seeking help.
Rescue teams were sent out immediately to search the Mt. Waterman area, but with no luck.
After an entire night of searching, rescuers were unable to locate Rene.
Imagine being Rene in that moment – he probably waited up all night, expecting searchlights and the beat of a helicopter’s blades at any second. But nothing came, and he must have started to lose hope as the sun rose in the morning.
There’s only so long a person can survive without the things we take for granted today. While we can live for up to 21 days without food, without water, we could only live for 3 days at most.
But thankfully, for Rene, he hadn’t strayed so far out that his cell phone had lost signal.
His problem, however, was that his phone’s battery was dying. So he did all that he could: he snapped a photo of his legs on a cliff edge and sent it to his roommate, along with a message explaining that he was lost.
Darrin Mach, Rene’s roommate, first thought that his friend was playing a joke on him.
But when he heard nothing back after a few hours, he decided to call the cops.
Speaking to Inside Edition about his decision to request a search party for Rene, Darrin said:
“It’s late, the sun’s going down. He’s going to be out there, it’s just going to be hard for anyone to locate him at that time.”
To someone who doesn’t know the area, the rocky ledge that Rene is sitting on could be anywhere in California.
But when authorities released the image to the public, an avid hiker came forward with valuable information.
Are You an Avid Hiker in the Mt. Waterman Area? #LASD SAR Teams need help locating a #missing hiker. He sent this picture to a friend. His car was found near Buckhorn Campground/Trailhead. Call us if you recognize the area pictured below 818-248-3464. https://t.co/Xi0VL6Mxfi pic.twitter.com/1lUMrgj4y9
— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) April 13, 2021
Benjamin Kuo was this hiker. He explained how he had helped authorities track down Rene, saying:
“From the photo, you can see there’s a certain texture and pattern to what it looks like.”
He pinpointed GPS coordinates that a search team was able to use to locate Rene, who was thankfully okay after spending a night shivering in the cold, surrounded by mountain lions and bears.
We are so grateful for a happy ending to this search. A huge TY to @AltadenaMRT @SierraMadreSAR Antelope Valley SAR, @SCVSHERIFF SAR, and @SEBLASD Air-5. We further want to thank the online community and especially @ai6yrham. His clue greatly helped us find the hiker.#LASD pic.twitter.com/Ope322D0Z2
— Montrose Search & Rescue Team (Ca.) (@MontroseSAR) April 14, 2021
Rene admitted that he had been starting to lose hope, thinking, “If this is my time, I’m not ready.”
This story is yet another reminder to us all: before you go hiking, tell someone where you’re going.
You can learn more about the story and watch video interviews with Rene, Darrin and Benjamin below.
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