Mystery Of Two Missing Hikers Ends In Surprising Twist

The gorgeous San Gabriel Mountains in San Bernardino, California, are an extremely popular place for hiking – and are as dangerous as they are famous. Over the years, many people have lost their lives while climbing these mountains, so when two hikers went missing, people expected the worse. Today, we’ll look at the strange disappearance of two hikers. You won’t believe the story!

Photo: Courtesy of People

#24. The San Gabriel Mountains

Located in Southern California, the San Gabriel Mountains provide the iconic background of the metropolis of Los Angeles, so residents of the city, as well as hundreds of tourists, love to visit them. The range is not only famous for its beauty and location but also because it was named a National Monument by President Barack Obama.

Photo: Courtesy of National Forests

The range earned its title because it is Los Angeles’ proverbial faucet and provides the city with a third of its drinking water. On top of that, it is home to a wide array of wildlife, like the spotted owl, the coyote, and the mountain lion. The endangered bighorn sheep also inhabits the area. But there is one grim reason why the mountains are famous too…

#23. Beautiful And Dangerous

The vast, rugged landscape of San Gabriel features undulating peaks and canyons, which make it a challenge to explore. At its highest point, known as Mount Baldy, it reaches over 10,000 feet. Falling from such height is absolutely fatal, and climbing to the top is no joke at all. And in winter, snow and ice make things far more challenging.

Photo: Courtesy of Rare Gold Nuggets

The mountains do offer something for everyone, whether it is the landscape, the wildlife, or the many activities people can enjoy, but all of this is offered with a dose of danger. Not only do people tend to slip and fall, but there have been many cases of people getting stuck, and if there isn’t anyone to get you out… you can imagine what would happen.

#22. The Dark Side Of The Mountains

The San Gabriel Mountains are one of the most beautiful spots in all of California, so naturally, the place is a must-see. However, it isn’t the best choice for inexperienced hikers, and a visit to these mountains can actually be fatal. That is why a huge search-and-rescue team is always available, but sometimes it isn’t enough.

Photo: Courtesy of MNN

Just this February, a man named Ernesto Alonso Rodriguez lost his life when he slipped on ice and fell 200 feet down one of the mountains. In 2007, another man, named Michael J. Yoo suffered a similar fate, only this time, he could’ve survived. Michael also fell down a mountain, but he fell into an isolated area.

#21. Horror Stories

The area where Michael had fallen was extremely isolated, and by the time the rescue team arrived, he had passed away from his injuries. Luckily. however, it turns out that Yoo had fallen with his group of friends, who were all found alive, but seriously injured after being trapped in that area for long hours.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

After all the horrible accidents that have occurred in San Gabriel, one would think that people would stay away, but the opposite happened. Just like Mount Everest, where more than 300 people have died, San Gabriel keeps getting more and more popular, and people love to face a challenge, just like these two hikers did early this year.

#20. How Our Story Begins

In April 2019, two hikers decided to climb Cucamonga Peak, which is one of the mountains of San Gabriel. This one is particularly challenging, as it stands at more than 8,800 feet, making it one of the highest mountains of the whole range. Eric Desplinter and Gabrielle Wallace set out to climb in the morning, without knowing what fate had in store for them.

Photo: Courtesy of People

Eric was Gabrielle’s boss, and along with two other coworkers, they went to San Gabriel to train for an even bigger hike they were planning to complete at the end of the month. Little did they know that their plans would never come true. The morning of April 6, everything in their lives changed forever.

#19. Bad Feelings

The trip they had planned was supposed to take 10 hours, but things obviously didn’t go as planned. While going up the 4,000-foot ascent, the group experienced a setback they did not expect. The two other coworkers had a feeling that the trail was dangerous and that they shouldn’t continue, but Eric and Gabrielle didn’t listen.

Photo: Courtesy of PCTA

Their two companions decided to head back to the car, and Eric and Gabrielle were left alone to complete the hike. But as the hours went by and their companions kept waiting and waiting, they realized something was wrong: Eric and Gabrielle were not coming back, at least not that day. Then, they decided to do something about it.

#18. Fear Becomes A Reality

As the sun went down and Eric and Gabrielle were nowhere to be seen, their two coworkers, who were deeply concerned and sensed that something had gone terribly wrong, alerted authorities to the couple’s disappearance. Immediately, a search-and-rescue mission began, as time was of the essence. The experienced rescuers knew that they had to act fast.

Photo: Courtesy of Travel and Leisure

The team had to hunt over 19,000 acres of dangerous terrain in order to find the couple or at least some clues to their whereabouts. If they had fallen and were injured, then they needed to be found right away, or they could both die. Also, the couple didn’t have many supplies with them, so they would only survive a couple of nights alone in the wild.

#17. The Search Begins

Eric and Gabrielle’s families were alerted, and they rushed to the scene right away. Authorities tried to calm them down and let them know that there was a high chance that they were OK. After all, Eric was a super experienced hiker who served in the National Guard and had even served in Afghanistan.

Photo: Courtesy of KCET

Although Gabrielle didn’t have Eric’s experience, she was resourceful, hard-working, and reportedly put a lot of effort into preparing for the hike, buying brand new equipment and training hard on her spare time. When her mom was asked how she felt about the situation, she said:

“I know he wouldn’t leave her.And she wouldn’t leave him.”

#16. Without A Trace

As the hours went by, Eric and Gabrielle’s families grew more and more worried, and then those hours turned to days. When they took in the gravity of the situation, Eric’s mother, Karen Ziebarth, and Tim, his brother, flew from Iowa, their home, to California. Then, the two hikers were officially declared missing.

Photo: Courtesy of Accu Weather

The two families went closer to the search efforts, and even joined in the search, as other volunteers also did. But despite the fact that more and more people were looking for the couple, there wasn’t a single trace of them anywhere. How could they have vanished out of thin air, without even leaving a footprint?

#15. Reinforcements

Aside from ground search, rescuers started using helicopters, circling around the San Gabriel area, trying to see if they could find the hikers from above – or at least a clue to lead them there. However, nothing was found. The on-foot search range was also increased, and the volunteer number got bigger and bigger.

Photo: Courtesy of South Africa Adventures

The case also garnered media coverage, and more and more people were hoping and praying for a sign of Eric and Gabrielle. At this point, the hikers would have spent two nights alone in the wilderness with very low supplies – that is, assuming they were still alive. The thought of something terrible happening to them became closer to reality as every hour went by.

#14. Support

What if they were injured? What if they ran out of food and water? What if they were trapped? Or worse… That’s what Eric and Gabrielle’s families and friends kept thinking, as the third day came by. At this point, Eric Desplinter’s mother and brother arrived and joined the third-day hunt for their missing loved one.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

But despite the bad thoughts that were circling through their minds, the families found support and comfort in all the locals who joined the search and kept their morale high. When asked about how she felt during that time, Eric’s sister said that the support from the locals kept her hopes up at all times.

#13. Worst Fears

But as darkness fell on the third day and the weather got worse and worse, search efforts were hampered, and there were still no signs of the missing hikers. The terrible weather conditions caused fewer people to attend the search, which also led to fewer media coverage, and fear began to settle.

Photo: Courtesy of Bern

If fewer people turned up to help out, the hikers’ families would be left alone, and the missing couple could potentially never be found. Visibility got so low that search efforts were eventually called off entirely, and the families were forced to go home and wait for the weather to clear.

#12. Rock Bottom

“The weather was such a reflection of how my family was feeling on the mountain that day,” said Eric’s sister, and it couldn’t have been truer. Once the fourth day rolled in, the hikers’ loved ones started to wonder whether they should prepare themselves for the worst as time was running out.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

There’s only a limited time frame during which the missing couple could be found, and it was almost coming to an end, especially considering that they barely had no supplies. And if any of them was injured, then it was already too late to do much. But then, on the fifth day, something changed.

#11. A Hopeful Find

On the fifth day of the search, just when people were beginning to lose all hope, rescuers found a pair of footprints that led off a trail in the Cucamonga Canyon area, close to where the couple had disappeared. A couple of footprints may not seem like much, but it was actually a huge development for the case.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

It meant that the rescue group now knew what direction to follow, and it also meant that the hikers were walking around and hopefully were not injured. There was no time to lose, and the team had to follow the only clue they had to find the missing hikers alive. A background-level search was not enough.

#10. Footprints

The search team followed the very few footprints they found at ground level, but at some point, the footprints stopped appearing, and they were back at the start again. The heavy storms of previous days had probably washed most of the footprints off, and with that, any evidence of where the hikers were headed.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC News

At this point, the only chance at finding them would be by helicopter, so a helicopter was deployed to circle around the area where the footprints had been found. After a few unsuccessful hours, the helicopter spotted a faint light flickering in the darkness – could it be Eric and Gabrielle?

#9. The Rescue

What the rescuers spotted from the helicopter was a small campfire, glowing in the darkness of the mountains. Huddling around it were two people, desperately looking for warmth. As the helicopter got closer, they realized it was them: Eric and Gabrielle, alive.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

The look on their tired faces was indescribable. After being missing for five days, the hikers were also losing hope of ever being found, of ever seeing their loved ones again and going back to their normal lives. But here it was, the helicopter that saved their lives was ready to take them to safety.

#8. The Reunion

The hikers were airlifted to safety and taken to the Mount Baldy fire station to undergo medical examinations. After being missing for five whole days, they were probably starving and exhausted, and although they didn’t seem injured, medical staff had to make sure they were OK to go home.

Photo: Courtesy of Des Moines Register

Once they reached the fire station, their families were notified of the rescue, and they all quickly rushed to see them. The families reunited with long hugs and tears of joy, and all was well again. But now that they were safe and sound, people wanted to know what had really happened that night.

#7. Only Grateful

“We’re very grateful to be found tonight. I’m ready to get to bed and get some rest,” said Eric when he came out to face the cameras that were waiting for him outside the fire station. Everyone was excited to see the two hikers alive and well, but they weren’t ready to talk about what had happened yet.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

“I think I cried more when I found out that he was alive rather than hearing the news of him being missing,” Eric’s sister told The Des Moines Register. “The news of him being alive – that was true happiness.” It was time for the families to go home and rest, and the next day, the couple was ready to talk.

#6. The Story

Now that the hikers were home with their families and were examined by medics, it was time for them to tell their story. As it turns out, every theory that people had thought about had some truth to them, because every accident that goes down in the San Gabriel mountains starts the same way: a fall.

Photo: Courtesy of Moon Honey Travel

As they were hiking one of the mountain tracks, Gabrielle slipped on an icy patch and dramatically fell 100 feet down Cucamonga Peak on the first day. Her fall stopped in some mountainside scrub, leaving her with gashes on her legs and hands. Eric quickly ran down to find her and decided to call off their ascent.

#5. A Detour

Luckily, Gabrielle hadn’t broken any bones and could walk on her own. The couple decided to go off the trail and find somewhere they could get signal and call for a ride down the mountain. But things didn’t go as planned, and their problems became bigger than they already were once they went off-trail.

Photo: Courtesy of The Know Denver Post

“We just lost the trail and had a little bit of a slip going to the peak of Cucamonga Peak and decided we wouldn’t go back up the ice and snow,” Eric explained. “So, we tried to descend through a valley. But that valley was more treacherous than we thought.”

#4. Bad Decisions

The couple ended up on a much riskier route where they had no phone signal and were completely lost. However, they decided to keep on moving and were wandering the dangerous mountains for four whole days, scaling rocks and hazardous terrain, trying to find someone who could help them.

Photo: Courtesy of Trip and Trail

They just kept on going because they felt that they didn’t have any other choice. They could’ve sat and waited for help to come by, but after the days kept going by, that didn’t seem like a good option. Giving up, however, was never an option for the pair, and the thought of losing their lives in those mountains only pushed them forward.

#3. Harder And Harder

As they continued to go down the mountains, things only got more and more complicated for the hikers. They didn’t think about rationing their food, so they ate most of their snacks on the first day. As a result, they were left with only four energy bars for the rest of their journey.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

As the third day dawned, the couple was exhausted and just couldn’t continue anymore. Their whole bodies were giving up on them, so they decided to stop and just wait for a helicopter to spot them. Sitting and waiting, however, can take a toll on your mind, and after 24 hours, the couple was desperate.

#2. Keep On Moving

“It just continued to get more and more difficult. Then we came to a place where the canyon got extremely narrow, and it was just like a waterslide. You had to sit down on your butt, slide down, and you end up in a pool at the bottom,” Explained Eric when asked about the fourth day.

Photo: Courtesy of Backpacker Magazine

The couple felt that they had no choice but to continue because no helicopter had managed to find them at that point. Any hope they had of being rescued had vanished, and they believed they could only rescue themselves. As the night drew in, they made their way down a terrifying descent that was higher than a skyscraper.

#1. The End

Once they made it down the canyon, they stopped and made a little campfire. Thankfully, on the fifth day, their prayers were answered, and the helicopter finally spotted them. As they were preparing themselves for the worst, they were rescued and reunited with their families.

Photo: Courtesy of Scribol

But the whole ordeal taught them a valuable lesson. Never go on a hike without supplies, and don’t take unnecessary risks. Of course, you can’t carry 100 pounds of gear for a hike, but at the very least, you gotta be ready in case things don’t go as planned. And of course, don’t eat all your food on the first day!

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    Angeles

    24 - Argentina.

    She's a journalist and a website developer based in New York.

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