Thirty-eight hours into a massive search for missing runner Robert Root, the Modesto man, clad in running shorts and a light jacket, emerged Tuesday from the snowy Placer County wilderness.
“We are just overjoyed to have Robert back,” said Karen Lozano, a member of Root’s Modesto-based ShadowChase Running Club. “To come out unscathed is just amazing.”
Root, 55, was taken by ambulance from the search command center in the tiny mountain community of Michigan Bluff to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. He was released from the hospital Tuesday evening.
“The searchers were all awesome,” Root said, according to a Placer County Sheriff’s Office statement. “I’m so thankful for all the people in my life.”
The plan Sunday was to run 20 miles – 10 miles east from Michigan Bluff and back – along trails used for the prestigious Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, according to ShadowChase members.
The runners were in two groups, one running ahead of the other. Root started with the slower group, and when it stopped to rest about 9:45 a.m., he said he would run ahead and catch the faster group. That was the last time he was seen until Tuesday.
His running group became alarmed when they didn’t see him during the return leg, said Charlie Johnson, a longtime ShadowChase Running Club member.
Root told rescuers Tuesday that he took a wrong turn. Lozano said the experienced runner had been on the trail before but that the landscape has been changed by trail work and a recent wildfire.
After taking a wrong turn, Root told authorities, he wound up on a cliff above the American River, then crawled into some shrubs, where he slept as temperatures dropped to 30 degrees. He tried to find his way out Monday but just wound up back at the same spot, where he spent another night. Monday night brought several inches of snow. With minimal clothing, he tightened and relaxed his muscles to fight the shivering brought on by the cold.
Chad Johnson, president of the ShadowChase Running Club, said Root sipped from his runner’s water bottle and “had some shot blocks and some glucose tablets that runners tend to use for quick bursts of energy.” He ate his last glucose tablet Tuesday morning.
Root said that on Tuesday he chose to head “up and west,” according to the Sheriff’s Office. He said he saw the searchers when he reached the El Dorado Bridge, about 2.5 miles from the Michigan Bluff trailhead.
“He’s in great shape,” Chad Johnson said. “I think it was just that his body is used to being pushed to the extreme. He looked like he’d just finished a marathon, but didn’t look like he’d been out in the elements for two nights. It’s just such a miracle that we got him back safe.”
Lt. Kevin Borden, who led the search for Placer County, was relieved to see Root “in pretty durn good health.”
The organized search began Sunday evening and grew to include 108 professional rescuers from eight agencies using foot patrols, air support, horses, rescue dogs, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, Borden said.
“It was a huge combined effort,” Borden said. “Most people don’t want to go outside (in inclement weather). These people are just so dedicated they are going to go out there to find somebody’s loved one.”
John Trent, president of the Western States 100, called Root’s safe rescue from treacherous landscape “amazing news.”
“It’s a rugged wilderness area. There are rocks, there are roots” and steep canyons, he said.
He said it’s common for running groups to get separated because of the landscape and varying abilities.
“We are just so thankful. It amazes me that he made it through two nights like that. It just goes to show you that God does answer prayers,” Charlie Johnson said.
About 100 members and friends of Root gathered Monday night for a vigil. Spirits ran low as people feared he might succumb to temperatures that dipped overnight into the 30s. Charlie Johnson said he can’t wait to take Root to enjoy his favorite In-N-Out Burger and ask him how he survived the cold.
Chad Johnson was staying in Auburn overnight and is set to appear on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” today.
Tom Coyne, owner of Survival Training School of California, said people who spend a lot of time in the wilderness would be advised to get some training and take some basic supplies with them, whether on a run or day hike. He suggested that lost individuals keep positive and actively signal for help.
“The No. 1 killer is exposure,” Coyne said.