Two El Dorado County men spent a night stranded outdoors in the Ebbetts Pass area of Alpine County after their snowmobiles became stuck in the snow late Saturday afternoon.
Joshua Seidel and Zachary Bradgon, both 24 and residents of Diamond Springs, were rescued by searchers on the ground after they were located Sunday morning by a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew. Both men were in good physical condition after spending the night in a tree well created by the snow, according to a CHP news release.
Bradgon, Seidel and another friend had gone to the Ebbetts Pass area about 1:30 p.m. Saturday to ride their snowmobiles, CHP officials said. Being unfamiliar with the area, they rode around the main area, near the parking lot, until about 4 p.m., then decided to explore down the canyon. Bradgon and Seidel left the friend behind and told him they would return soon.
But, as they descended into the canyon, they found the snow was deeper than they had expected. They became stuck several times. Eventually, Bradgon’s snowmobile became so badly stuck that he abandoned it and went in search of Seidel.
Both men had “Family Radio System,” or FRS, handheld radios, which allowed them to stay in contact with each other, CHP officials said. When Bradgon caught up with his companion, he found Seidel’s snowmobile was stuck, too.
It was getting dark as they began digging out the snowmobile. Although they had proper clothing and equipment, they had limited food and water. The men found a tree well and dug down to the ground. They found dried wood, built a fire and decided to stay put until morning.
The friend they had left behind made his way back to the cars, but did not have a key. He was able to flag down a passing motorist and got a ride to Markleeville, where he summoned help.
The Alpine County Sheriff’s Office launched a search and rescue effort and called for CHP Helicopter 20. Due to the remote location and rugged terrain, the helicopter crew waited until dawn Sunday to leave from the Auburn Airport. Flight Officer/Paramedic Jimmy Hendrix was able to contact the men using the frequency of their FRS radios.
Because there were no landing zones in the area, the helicopter crew directed searchers on the ground to the men’s location. Search and rescue personnel helped the men recover their snowmobiles and get back to the parking lot.
CHP officials said the FRS radios saved hours of search time. The men also had proper clothing and equipment, and were able to start a fire, which helped them stay warm overnight. Their biggest mistake, officials said, was getting a late start and being unfamiliar with the area.
CHP officials advise people venturing into the back country, even those who are experienced, to take along maps or a GPS. With the heavy snowfall this early in the season, they said, people should be prepared for the unexpected.