These wilderness survival tips saved California girls lost 2 days in woods, cops say

Sisters Caroline, 5, and Leia Carrico, 8, were found Sunday morning after going missing Friday in a forest community in Humboldt County, officials say. They were found in “good spirits.”
Sisters Caroline, 5, and Leia Carrico, 8, were found Sunday morning after going missing Friday in a forest community in Humboldt County, officials say. They were found in “good spirits.” Humboldt County Sheriff's Office

Surviving two days lost in the woods of Northern California could be a challenge for anyone — but two girls who just lived through that ordeal were likely more prepared than most, according to their parents and local authorities.

Rescuers found sisters Caroline and Leia Carrico, just 5 and 8 years old respectively, Sunday around 10:30 a.m. about 1.4 miles from their southern Humboldt County home, the sheriff’s office said. The girls had disappeared from the rural home Friday, about 44 hours earlier. Rescuers found the girls dry, healthy and uninjured, the sheriff’s office said.

“How they were out there for 44 hours is pretty amazing — but it shows the resilience of people that actually grew up in this community,” Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said at a news conference. “These girls definitely have a survival story to tell.”

Honsal said the sheriff’s office was told the girls were trained through 4-H outdoor survival programs, and “we believe that did play a part.”

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The girls’ parents agreed.

They saved each other,” Misty Carrico, mother of the two girls, said in an interview with ABC News. “I’m the proud mom. I raised superheroes.”

The skills the girls used to survive can come in handy for anyone disoriented in the woods — no super powers required: The girls remained where they were once they realized they were lost on the deer trail they followed, sipped fresh water off huckleberry leaves to stay hydrated, and sheltered beneath a bush, according to the sheriff’s office.

Honsal called the wilderness where the girls were found “rugged territory” and an “extreme environment” at the news conference announcing their rescue. Fog enveloped the forest — home to bears, bobcats and mountain lions — while the girls were lost over the weekend, as temperatures dipped to the 40s and rain fell intermittently, the Washington Post reports.

“That wilderness survival class, ultimately, saved their life,” Honsal said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “They knew exactly what to do to hold on and survive until the rescuers got there. It was pretty amazing.”

The firefighters that found the pair discovered boot prints they suspected were the girls’ around 8 a.m. on Sunday, and then tracked the trail of prints near Richardson Grove State Park, where the girls responded when their names were called, according to the sheriff’s office. A search and rescue team of more than 250 from across the state were looking for the girls, the sheriff’s office said.

The girls got lost after they went outside to go on a walk Friday afternoon against their mother’s wishes because they wanted an “adventure,” NBC reports.

Leia said her 5-year-old sister cried through the night on Friday, but she told her to think “happy thoughts,” ABC reports.

The girls wandered off from their home in Benbow, along Highway 101 in the northwest corner of the state, the sheriff’s office said. Humboldt County Sheriff's Office

“I thought of going to the park with mommy and daddy. I thought of going to the ocean. I thought of everything,” Caroline said, according to the TV network, “but it didn’t work.”

Leia also began gathering brush to build a fire, as she’d learned in wilderness training, but stopped when the sun started shining and warmed them, ABC reports.

“I know how to start a fire,” Leia said in the interview, explaining how she relied on experiences from family camping excursions to survive as well.

The girls called the bush they used to keep warm and dry their “huckleberry home,” ABC reports.

“They reacted right to what they were supposed to do,” Honsal said, according to the Post. “That’s the biggest story of all, having parents talk to their kids.”

Honsal also said that had the girls not been rescued Sunday, the situation could have grown dire.

“We knew Sunday had to be the day,” Honsal said, according to the Chronicle. “The forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning was in the 30s. We thought hypothermia was going to start catching up to them if they weren’t harmed already.”

A 71-year-old woman was rescued by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew inside Olympic National Park after six days stranded in the woods.

Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.