California snow cuts off communities and strands hikers, but teen trekkers endure

As residents of California mountain communities have been snowed in for more than a week, two teenage hikers lost for five days emerged unharmed amid 5-foot snowdrifts, officials said.

The pair, Riley Ramirez and Cole White, both 17, planned to hike the Pacific Coast Trial near Southern California’s highest peak, San Gorgonio Mountain, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

They headed out Feb. 26, experienced severe weather and lost contact with their parents, it said. Two days later family members asked rescuers for help, according to the statement.

On Friday, a sheriff’s helicopter crew spotted the pair in a remote area of the trail, landed in heavy snow and rescued the teens, who were taken to a sheriff’s station to be checked out by medical staffers, the department said.

The teenagers told deputies and their parents they felt assured of their demise before the helicopter arrived.

“They’ve told us, ‘We were already convinced we were going to die,'” Cesar Ramirez, father of Riley, told The Associated Press.

A sheriff’s official told the AP the two survived by huddling but still suffered mild hypothermia.

The sheriff’s department has also been busy helping residents stranded in their homes in the snow-covered San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said at a news conference Friday that deputies were leading convoys of groceries and other supplies to area markets otherwise snowed in.

Barriers to civilization remained in the area after a rare blizzard brought snow accumulation measured at 6 feet in places. The sheriff said his deputies are facing literal walls of snow.

“We still have to knock down those walls,” he said.

The sheriff’s department made calls to more than 100 residents of Cedar Pines Park and the Valley of Enchantment and retrieved 17 who said they wouldn’t survive without access to supplies, Dicus said.

Katy Curtis of the San Bernardino Mountains community of Crestline said snow was piled up to her home’s roofline. She recently hiked 5 miles in snowshoes to get gasoline to power a generator.

“It was probably the longest day of my life,” she said, according to the AP. “We’re just all so exhausted in every way.”

Access to food and other necessities has been difficult enough that the sheriff’s department will deliver “meals ready to eat,” freeze-dried or preserved-meat rations originally developed for military deployment, to remote or foreboding locations.

The MREs will “help them stabilize their food situation,” Dicus said.

Amid panicky third-person posts on social media about people stranded in those mountains, the sheriff sought to reassure residents of communities hard hit by snowstorms in February, including Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, that first responders will help.

“We’re gonna dig you out, and we are coming,” Dicus said.

In recent years winter was all but done bringing snow to Southern California mountains by early March. But this year, it’s not known whether more is yet to come.

The National Weather Service predicted fresh snow for the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the northern half of the state in the next few days and the possibility of a light dusting in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California overnight.

Courtney Brogle and Jackie Zhou contributed.