Stuck, cold and scared, Emelia Johnson cried.
I lost it emotionally,” Johnson said. “Spending a night in the woods is a very scary thing. I think the main thing my husband and I were thinking, we seriously had it in our minds that we were never going to get out. That was the scariest thing for us.”
Emelia and her husband, Jesse Johnson, both 36, took a wrong turn during an Oct. 12 hike and spent the night in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. The couple’s misadventure is counted among the 48 search and rescue efforts the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office has led this year, including 14 since Sept. 1.
The sheriff’s office has ventured outside the county to help with searches eight times through mutual aid agreements.
It’s unclear why the sharp rise in missing hikers, hunters and mushroom pickers has occurred, but regardless, it’s made for a busy year for sheriff’s deputies.
“We usually average 28 to 30 missions,” Evinger said.
The temperature dropped below freezing during the Johnsons’ night in the woods. The couple, and their dog, were found by a deer hunter on Oct. 13, 12 miles from their intended destination.
The Johnsons, who live in Medford, go on about five hikes a season, Emelia Johnson said.
They’ve lost their way before, she said, but they never got stuck.
The Johnsons started on the Cold Springs Trailhead. They planned to follow the trail’s loop, which intersects at various points with the Sky Lakes, Pacific Crest and Blue Lake trails.
“We thought it looped to the left and it looped to the right,” Emelia Johnson said.
The Johnsons planned a short day hike, packing nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a lighter and water.
“The flame was what kept us alive,” Emelia Johnson said.
Search and rescue
Evinger launched a search that included more than 40 people, along with dogs and horses. The sheriff’s agencies in Jackson and Josephine counties assisted.
The hikers were reported missing Oct. 12, and described their hike on the Cold Springs Trailhead to a friend.
Searchers used text messages to track them by following landmarks detailed in the couple’s texts.
The sheriff’s office enlisted a locksmith to open the couple’s car, where a map was visible.
When they woke in the morning, the Johnsons were determined not to spend another night in the woods.
“We saw the South Fork trailhead that was five miles in the opposite direction and we came out onto the main road there,” Emelia Johnson said. “That’s where we ended up running into the hunter that took us back to our trailhead.”