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Lost in Millard Canyon: The Rescue

In a two-part series, Altadena Patch tells the story of Akiva Estersohn, who suffered a traumatic head injury while lost for 58 hours in Millard Canyon.

 This is the second in a two-part series of the story lost hiker Akiva Estersohn based on an account he gave Altadena Patch following the incident.  Part one can be .

On Sunday March 11, two days after Akiva Estersohn had left for a routine hike in the Chaney Trail area, he woke up in the very early morning and it was cold, much cooler than the days before.  He was able to huddle under what was left of a space blanket he had brought on the hike with him and he dozed off again.  He woke up feeling warm.

It was difficult to get moving – he had now not eaten for 48 hours.  He was cold and tired and he had suffered a significant head injury that he had been dealing with for almost 36 hours.

His recollection of time here gets a little fuzzy: he would spend all day Sunday out in the canyon, but when he got up and started walking, how long he walked, are not so clear to him.

He decided to head in a different direction and not climb.  At this point, he was not thinking straight.  Estersohn thought he remembered a small tributary he had once seen west off the main Millard Canyon stream.  He wondered if he could get there and follow it down. 

After walking for a while he came to what he described as an “abyss.”  It was a huge cliff, a steep drop off, another way down.  It looked much too serious to climb down.  But he saw somewhere along the granite wall there was a foothold with a little patch of dirt.  There was a footprint in it.  There was a steel rung in the ground with a rope in it.

He thought, if someone else has climbed here, that means I can climb here.

And then he realized, the footprint was his.  He was back at the same waterfall he had climbed up, the same one he decided he was unwilling to climb down on Friday. 

It did not go well.  Estersohn slipped and fell three times on the way down.  The last one was bad.

 “The last fall was terrifying I went on my back, slid for several feet, then kept falling… I might have fallen 10 or 20 feet,” Estersohn said.

It was different from the fall he had Friday where he injured his head.

“That time it happened so quickly, I had no time to think about it,” Estersohn said.  But when he fell Sunday, he had enough time to start to panic about how he would land.

 He made it down without doing himself further injury.  He could still walk.  And he would not have to climb anymore to get out, just follow the stream down hill until he found the intersection with the Sunset Ridge trail.

 But something funny happened then.  And Estersohn can’t quite explain it – perhaps all that time without food, the exhaustion, the head injury do, but it still seems strange to him.  He became once again convinced that there was another trail that would take him right to the fire road and get him back to his car more quickly.  He looked around for it, but could not find it.  He wasted a lot of time doing it.

 “All that time that I killed, I could have walked out.  I would have had the time, I would have had the light. Estersohn said. “It made no sense.  By Sunday I must have just not been thinking completely straight.  At the moment, I just totally lost it… I got totally confused.”

 He walked back down to the stream bed.  By then it was getting dark.  He sat down on a log.  He checked his cell phone for reception and found it was 7:59 p.m.  The cell phone, drained from searching for a signal, died abruptly before Estersohn could make a call.  He continued to sit.

 That’s where he was found, by the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team at 9:05 p.m.

They gave him a jacket with a heated warm water bottle in it.  They gave him some foot warmers.  They gave him a Snickers bar and some hot tea.  And then he noticed they were talking over the radio about how to airlift him out of there to the hospital.

But Estersohn decided he could walk.

 “I told them look, I don't mean to tell you your business, but I can walk out.”

And he did.

The Aftermath

 Estersohn was in the hospital for three days after – he had to have stiches in his head, but because the wound had dirt packed in it, he could not get it done right away.  The risk of infection was a very serious issue.

The morning after he was found, he also had serious kidney issues.  The doctors told him he was severely dehydrated, which surprised him, since he had been drinking water from the creek for much of the trip.  

A doctor told him he was surprised that Estersohn had made it out alive.

After he was found, Estersohn also found out how much he was missed.  His friends had mobilized Friday night, calling around others in the area to help find him.

On Saturday, a Jewish volunteer emergency rescue team called Hatzolah began to try to figure out what happened to him, after being notified by the people he was staying with.  They reported him missing to the LAPD and called TMobile to see if they would track his cell phone signal.

By Saturday night, they had thought of the possibility that he went hiking.

On Sunday afternoon, they were informed that TMobile had picked up a signal near the intersection of the 2 and 134 Freeways.

Dozens of volunteers searched trail heads all over L.A. County.  Deleon, of the Altadena Search and Rescue team, said that there were a crowd of people at the Chaney Trail trail head once Estersohn’s  car had been discovered there.

What did Estersohn learn?  Probably to let people know where you are headed before you take off hiking.  But some lessons he already knew: be humble, have a sense of humor.

Following up on the initial Patch story which described him as only minorly injured and ran an unflattering photo taken from a black and white flyer, Estersohn stopped by the site to give more details of his rescue.  Criticized for taking up police resources in the articles comments section he wrote:

“I agree with most of what you have written and it is to my eternal regret and chagrin that so many resources and personnel were taken up on my behalf.”

And of the picture that accompanied the article:

“That is not the world's worst picture of me, but it's close.”

Revvell April 04, 2012 at 05:19 PM
... and, I hope she never gets lost, turned around or broken so she has to call for help, eh?
Lisa Hastings April 04, 2012 at 05:41 PM
@ Revvell. I am grateful for the public service that both the Sheriff's Department and the Search and Rescue team performs and for the men and women who risk their lives everyday in the performance of their service. However, if I ever need their services, it won't be because I climbed the Saucer Branch to get to a fire road hundreds of feet up on the OTHER side (!!!) of the canyon or because I lied about the circumstances involving some misadventure I took in the mountains!
Revvell April 04, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Oh, was I speaking about you, @Lisa? Hmmmm...
Lisa Hastings April 04, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Peace and love Revvell!
Revvell April 04, 2012 at 09:52 PM
"..... because I lied about the circumstances involving some misadventure I took in the mountains!....." Peace-filled and loving....

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