Rescue Me: How A Challenging Hike Turned Into An Embarrassing California Adventure

IMG_8093 (1)Below is a slightly longer version of my Hill column on my recent hike in the Cleveland National Forest outside of Santa Ana, California.  It was the beginning of the heat emergency that is still gripping the area with massive fires and dangerous conditions.  I have stayed in contact with my new friends at the Orange County Fire and Rescue and they were kind enough to send some pictures of the rescue.  I am told that their biggest problem is that people often do not want to be rescued because they are afraid to be hit with a bill for the rescue. They do not charge. They just want people out of harm’s way and safe.
I have previously criticized the charging for rescues in parks because it is  discourages people from calling for help. I also view this is one of those essential jobs for the government that is supported by the public through their taxes. Of course, I never thought I would end up being the guy dangling from a helicopter.  As I have previously written, these incredible heroes deserve our support and greater funding in doing their critical work as first responders.  These men and women are truly inspirations in how they put themselves in harm’s way for others. Where the natural instinct is to run from danger, these people run toward it to help others.  They show an unflinching and unyielding courage day in and day out.
In the meantime, I am currently on vacation with my family and we have repeatedly thought of the Orange County Fire and Rescue on this trip.  As I spend time with my family, I remember that image of Jim Slikker descending into that ravine.  I will never forget it or the debt that I owe him and the Orange County Sheriff’s Fire and Rescue team.
Here is the column:

“First responders” is a term that has become so ubiquitous in our daily lexicon that it loses much of its meaning. It is a virtual mantra for politicians — an overarching term for police officers, firefighters, medical personnel and others who respond to every crisis great and small. Then, for some us, the meaning of a first response is driven home in a more immediate and personal way. That is precisely what happened to me in a ravine in California this week when I became the subject of a first response.

Now being rescued is hard to explain and, for some of us, even harder to accept. My preferred explanation back in D.C. is that I went into the desert to find my spirit animal guide only to discover it was Lanny Davis. That is when I stroked out. Everyone knows that Lanny only appears when you are virtual carrion.

The fact is however that I found myself in the ultimate no spin zone. I got caught in the heat emergency that paralyzed Southern California with raging temperatures and brush fires. It was my turn to be “that guy” on the trail who found himself overwhelmed by elements that he failed to fully anticipate. On a stupid day hike.

IMG_8073I did not relish the role. I have spent a lifetime hiking and backpacking around the world with largely solo treks in remote areas from the Amazonian Forests of Brazil to the Alaskan tundra and beyond. This has included a number of desert hikes. For that reason, when I was asked to speak to the Ninth Circuit conference in Anaheim, California I jumped at the opportunity to do a hike in the Santa Ana area – a mix of mountain and desert conditions. I decided to do a roughly 10-mile trek up a mountain in the Cleveland National Park in Orange County.

I pride myself on taking care in challenging hikes and on this occasion I took all of the steps that I had learned the hard way over decades of hiking. I have done much higher elevations and longer distances. I gave my wife my trail plan to keep her informed on my progress by cellphone. I started at the earliest time possible after buying a pass in the morning to minimize hiking at the peak of the heat. I checked the temperature, which was predicted to be around the upper 80s or low 90s at its peak. The recommended water load is a gallon. I took 1.3 gallons, food, medical kit, small flashlight, knife, sunblock, distance and heart monitor, and back up clothes. One element however would change in a big, big way: the temperature.

IMG_8067Everything seemed fine as I reached the summit. It was clearly hotter than expected. However, I was right on time and headed back down. It was then, with five miles ahead of me, that I discovered that I was out of water in my camel backpack. I later found that my camel pack seal failed to fully lock. That and a higher consumption rate depleted the water in half the time. The temperatures quickly soared beyond 100 degrees with virtually no shade to be found. The conditions became increasingly brutal with the rough terrain and blazing sun. I monitored my heart rate (which began to soar with the temperatures) and after a couple of hours began to experience telltale signs of heat exhaustion. I checked in with my wife and told her I was out of water but pushing ahead. I started to break up the hike by stopping under occasional shade and then pushing ahead. My increments became smaller and smaller. Pretty soon it was difficult to simply get up to stagger twenty or thirty feet. However, I was finally near the trailhead where my car was parked with my backup water. That is when I started to lock up. I knew I was spent without water. I tried to call the ranger station but they were closed on weekends. I then called Orange County to see if they knew of any officer nearby with water. About the same time, my wife called 911 after I failed to call her as expected.

Before long, I was speaking to an incredibly helpful Orange County sheriff deputy named Rod on the trail trying to find me with some water. I was close to the trailhead and I believed I could make the final stretch with some hydration. However, we could not locate each other and, in an effort to get to higher ground, I took a tumble into a steep ravine. I tried using my whistle and called out but we could not locate each other. That is when I spotted the helicopter. It was one of those moments when you thought things could not be much worse and then it does. I told Rod on my cellphone that I hoped that the helicopter was not for me and that all I needed was some water. Rod however said that it was the easiest extraction given the difficulty in locating me and the ravines. After I moved to open ground, the helicopter spotted me and soon there was a deputy descending from this helicopter in the blazing heat wave now stalled over much of Southern California.

IMG_8092Despite my pride, I needed help. Yes, it was a day hike but I was close to heat stroking out. Yet, all I could think as this rescuer descended was this guy doesn’t even know me. He is willing to dangle from a helicopter and drop into a ravine to save my sorry butt because that is what first responders do. It turned out to be Reserve Deputy Jim Slikker of the Orange County’s Sheriff’s search and rescue team. He quickly worked his way through the thick brush and found me. He checked my vitals and concluded that I was severely dehydrated as the helicopter with Deputies Jason McLennan, Tim Kozma, and Devon Kemp hovered above.

These are the guys you always wanted to be growing up. Tough, professional, patient, and empathetic. I kept on apologizing to Jim like an idiot as he patiently tried to get my vitals. I told him that I could make it to the trailhead now that I had water. He repeatedly assured me that they would not charge for the lift – misconstruing my concern. The prohibitive part of the airlift was hardly financial. It was being hoisted high for all to see the middle-aged wretch who had to be rescued off a day hike

unnamed-1Soon he was hooking me up to a harness for a short haul. I would dangle from the helicopter for the hop to the nearby trailhead. When we started to ascend, however, a large gust of wind slammed me into the rock face of the ravine. Jim was immediately apologetic but I really felt I deserved it.


As we approached the trailhead, I was amazed to see some huge accident had occurred with multiple fire trucks and police cruisers. Then it hit me. They are there for me. Whatever ego was not left in the ravine then fell 200 feet and disappeared into the arid haze. We landed near my car and Orange County paramedics Michael Ray and Byron Alexander checked me out. I declined to go to the hospital in favor of going to the store near the trailhead for a couple hours of hydration in air conditioning.

In the end, it was not embarrassment but gratitude that I felt most. The Orange County Sheriff deputies, firefighters and paramedics are the ultimate professionals. They come first – no matter where or who you are. I am not sure if I could have made the last leg to the trailhead but I would not want to bet my life on it. More importantly, the Orange County Sheriff’s personnel were not willing to take that bet. They rescued me.

I cannot tell you how hard it is to say those words: they rescued me. I have spent my life enjoying solitude and self-sufficiency in the wild. What I found is that you are a lot lighter for an airlift when you leave your ego back in a ravine. I am not proud to have ended up where I was but I am incredibly proud to have met the men and women from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. I will be forever in their debt.

I always say that every trek or hike leaves you with something unique. An image or a smell that indelibly links you to a place. This trip obviously is memorable in a different sense. Rather than the impressive chaparral yucca or beautiful orange bush monkeyflowers on this trail, I have another image seared into my head. It is of a stranger literally appearing out of thin air to help me in a sun-scorched ravine during a heat wave. That was no abstraction. That was my first responder.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

33 thoughts on “Rescue Me: How A Challenging Hike Turned Into An Embarrassing California Adventure”

  1. Thanks for setting ego and the urge to embroider the tale aside, and paying homage to your rescuers while letting those of us whose exercise consists mainly of typing know that we need to take care, even on day hikes, not to succumb to heatstroke.

    You opened yourself up to what I consider unfair criticism for doing so, and that’s another point in your favor, knowing a few people will say “As I said before and will say again…” things no one asked them to say now because no one cared when they said it before. Points for perspective.

  2. As I said before and will say again, the professor behaves in a manner which demands the classifications of a dilettante and poseur.

    Simply, the dilettante and poseur professor, as true of all dilettantes and poseurs, completely and utterly failed to understand and respect his only weekend walker abilities, failed to understand and respect the ambient conditions and failed to understand and respect his abilities and the ambient conditions in relationship to his role in the larger community in which he chose act irresponsibly.

    The professor whines, among other whines, why he, and other dilettantes and poseurs, ought not be financially responsible for his failure of understanding and respect,
    discourages people from calling for help….
    one of those essential jobs for the government that is supported by the public through their taxes…
    Of course, I never thought I would end up being the guy…”

    The professor’s feeble attempts at rationalization and justification fail to address his personal responsibility.

    Human beings do not hesitate to cry out for help when in danger. Reason and common sense, even a modicum of either, reveals that recusing dilettantes and poseurs from remote and skill specific places for which they have not the abilities nor understanding is not one of those essential jobs for the government, which is supported by the public through their taxes.

    Dilettantes and poseurs never think or consider “I” will be “the guy” because “I”, “the guy” have a completely unrealistic and unjustifiable sense of their abilities and understandings. In a word, entitled(ment).

    The professor opines, “I will never forget it or the debt that I owe …”
    Human nature being what it is I suspect, suspect strongly, the professor will forget. At the very least, the professor will fail to understand and appreciate his failure to respect his lack of ability, his abilities in the remote environment and his obligation and responsibility the larger community.

    Simply, the professor has the financial resources to reimburse Orange County and, yes, the State Of California for the scarce and limited public money available for essential governmental services such as hospitals, fire, police, roads and airports, to name but a few of the essential government services.

    The professor can and should. But!, he will not. Why? Because the professor as true of all dilettantes and poseurs is entitled.

    Please note, the professor did not even show his gratitude by buying the Orange County Firemen and forewoman or Search and Rescue people Not even a cake, fruit or beer … juice … anything!?

    I do not lack for compassion. I speak from experience. On the island Kauai and previously in California I participate in ocean rescue, search and rescue and C.E.R.T. ( community emergency response team ). As recently as Sunday, a friend and I were paddling in from surfing Kahili Beach ( a no lifeguard beach ) when I observed two small children panicking and drowning on boogie boards with their mother strugglingly equally.

    I swam to the two children, brought them to shore and then helped their mother ashore.

    I directed the children and their mother to the safest place to boogie board. The mother said they would do that and began to proceed up the beach. I suggested, however, that they should go to a beach which has lifeguard stations.

    The two little girls hugged and kissed me. Their mother told me that she did not need my advice.

    Human nature.

    dennis hanna

    1. “The two little girls hugged and kissed me. Their mother told me that she did not need my advice.

      Human nature.”


      “For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day ….”

      ~ Aristotle.

    2. You’re of the opinion that people here are waiting with bated breath for another gassy and repetitive exercise in self-aggrandizement on your part. They are not.

    3. Dennis:

      Were the two little girls and their mother dilettantes and poseurs? You show a curious disdain and even hatred for those in need of assistance for someone who purports to be involved in rescues. You sound more like a citizen who participated in CERT training than a professional first responder. If the mother informed you she did not require your advice, one wonders how you delivered it. In light of your recent post, not in a very friendly manner, I imagine.

      I notice you were surfing in a beach with no lifeguard. I have known many agro surfers, including those who travel the world and are sponsored, and some board makers. They all have stories about close calls. They trusted in their skill and strength, checked the perimeter, calculated the wave patterns, and at some point, got into trouble. Some of them are like gang members in their ownership of the beach, like Silver Strand, and fight to keep bennies out (but not the girls. We girls could surf anywhere. Even if we’re really bad beginners and trying to duck dive with a banana board.) I don’t care how good you are. You will eventually have a problem. Will you be a poseur then, or a dilettante, if you require help from a friend or first responder? People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and it is rude to insult the host at his party.

      Every environment has its peculiar challenges. The rainforest. Alpine tundra. Grizzly country. Desert. Those who love the outdoors will inevitably encounter unfamiliar terrain and learn from their mistakes. Heat in the desert is entirely different than heat in Virginia.

  3. “Yet, all I could think as this rescuer descended was this guy doesn’t even know me. He is willing to dangle from a helicopter and drop into a ravine to save my sorry butt because that is what first responders do.”

    That’s an interesting perspective about the role of your fellow man. I would have thought just the opposite — that we have a moral duty to help someone in dire straights to the best of our ability and failure to do so makes one culpable for what comes next. I know it’s his job but we all have moral intuitions to help others which may be deflected by concern for our own safety. Still, how many times have we seen TV footage of neighbors wading out into a raging river to save their friend perched on a rooftop or the same scenario to rescue a pet?

    Maybe it’s the difference between living in a big city and a small town. The sense of community is more pronounced in a smaller setting. Growing up, I remember our rural county’s Commonwealth Attorney diving down a 3′ pond overflow pipe to save his neighbor who had fallen in. The man was foolishly trying to clear a drain blockage by rocking the top of the pipe when he slipped and fell. Marty never hesitated in running through the water and plunging down head first. Bravest thing I ever saw as a kid … and the amazing thing is that the neighbor on the other side of the road dove in too once he saw what happened — and he just moved into the county three weeks before this.

    All three were saved but it was hairy for a while. At age 12, all I could do was call the rescue squad from the rotary telephone in our kitchen. No TV coverage, no one rushing to the newspaper, just good human nature on prominent display.

    1. People helping each other reinforces our faith in humanity. I find those stories of everyday heroism so moving.

  4. Thanks for putting “ego” aside and posting about your experience. I’m glad that you’re doing well and enjoying Hawaii with your family.

    This was mentioned downthread:

    “Am I More Likely to Get Heatstroke If I’ve Already Had It?”

    Just an excerpt:

    “Your odds for getting it again are indeed higher, but they don’t have to be.

    “Exertional heatstroke often occurs during the hot, summer months, but it can happen anytime. And if your body isn’t cooled within about 30 minutes, you risk permanent complications and even death.

    “The thing is, if you are cooled quickly, it’s possible to recover fully from exertional heatstroke. You may have damaged functions that allow your body to thermoregulate, causing heat intolerance. However, heat intolerance experienced after a case of exertional heatstroke often goes away within a few months. “Most of it resolves over time,” says Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute, a non-profit dedicated to preventing sudden death in sport. (Opened in 2010, the organization bears the name of an NFL player who died in August 2001 from exertional heatstroke suffered during a pre-season training camp.)

    “The biggest reason you’re at higher risk, Casa says, is whatever caused your heatstroke the first time is likely still an issue.”

  5. Thanks for sharing your story and glad yours had a happy ending. I’ve picked up quite a bit of helpful information just from reading the comments on these articles.

    Professor Turley, now that you’ve experienced hiking with a helicopter rescue, perhaps you and your family might try a different kind of ‘heli-hiking adventure’…one where you spend your day heli-hopping — flying from one remote area to the next by helicopter. You then take off exploring with an expert mountain guide.

    I highly recommend an outfit called CMH up in the Canadian Rockies. They provide all the gear from hiking boots, backpacks, waterproof rain jackets, etc. It’s a pretty cool adventure with an impressive operation. In addition to the summer heli-hiking adventures, they’ve also been doing heli-skiing trips for 50 years with a stellar safety record. Check it out.

  6. Professor Turley touches on an important topic, here. Rescue charges, for paramedics especially, is becoming a major controversy. People who need medical assistance are actually refusing help for fear of being hit with giant bills.

  7. Thanks God you knew enough to be aware of the seriousness of heat stroke! There’s a short 5 mile trek in White Sands New Mexico that kills tourists every year who think they’ll just go for a midday stroll!

  8. Interesting experience. Glad you are ok. Happy there are heroes willing to help

  9. Professor, thank you for this article that shows how easy it is for things to go south in a hurry. And many more thanks for drawing attention to the work our first responders do. For them it is much more than a job, it is a calling.

    My days as a first responder are long gone, I’m 73 now, but I’m like an old firehouse dog. I lived and hunted, professionally, certified/commission law enforcement officer in the mountains of Northern New Mexico for many years and have lost track of the times I have had to walk out. I spent a lot of time alone in the mountains, mainly on horseback, a real no no. But good for what ails the heart and mind.

    I’ll forward to some of my old friends still hanging on the edges and doing what they can back stateside. Thanks again for bring this to people’s attention.

  10. Well, let me say this about that. If you can’t get yourself out of the woods don’t go in there in the first place. A hundred years ago you would have perished and further proven the Darwin theory of survival of the fittest. As an eight year-old boy sixty years ago I would take off to the woods with a knife, 22 rifle, dog, string with fishing hook, matches and be gone for several days.

  11. Professor Turley, thank goodness you are alright. It is so very easy for the scales to tip, and it can start with such a small thing. The CA desert can be very challenging. Humidity is so low, the hot, dry air pulls moisture right out of you. There can be few landmarks. Everything is mountain ridges and chaparral or scrub. If you get off of a main trail head and find yourself on a rabbit trail or side shoot, it can be very difficult to describe where you are. True old growth chaparral is impenetrable off trail. Scrub is easier to pass through. They can be full of foxtails, thorns, and stickers that can attach to your socks like velcro if you get off trail. When you are dehydrated, those pungent essential oils of chaparral almost sting your nose as you brush through.

    Here is some advice that is a day late and a dollar short to add to what you’ve accumulated over the years.

    The cosmos will always take us down a peg now and then. Perhaps it’s to remind us to be on our guard, keep us from being to cocky, or it’s just a little game it plays. Don’t feel embarrassed. When you experience life, you are bound to have a misadventure here and there. Happens to all outdoors people. All’s well when there is a happy ending to the tale. That is why the elders have so much wisdom; they’ve learned through memorable mistakes.

    It is recommended to wear a breathable long sleeved shirt and pants in the desert. It will keep the sun off your forearms and reduce evaporation and sunburn. It will help keep you cool. That’s why the bedouin wear long flowing robes called a thobe.

    If you are within cell service, there is an app that I like called EquiTrail that can map where you go using an aerial map. You can send it to others. It measures how far you go, and you can save maps to retrace paths you like in the future. An App like this would obviously only work in cellular service range, and many places in the desert have poor cell service.

    Once you exhibit signs of heat exhaustion, you have to stop. Don’t keep pushing it if you can get word out for help. In really high heat, you are going to need electrolytes in addition to water.

    Don’t hike alone into remote areas. Solo hikes and rides were my favorite, too, but if you run into trouble and your cell doesn’t work, things can go sideways fast. We share our trails with rattlesnakes and mountain lions and ravines, and fires are sudden and common. I personally have come across a mountain lion, dozens of coyotes, loose cattle, bulls, feral dogs who want to eat horses, rusted barbed wire from days long gone, sink holes, unstable banks, turkeys (???), unexpected cliffs, enormous holes left from ranches, broken glass, homeless people with guns, rattlesnakes, difficulty figuring out which of the myriad rabbit trails I took (the horse can always find his way), and even weirdo naked hikers when I’ve been solo. (What is it with CA and nudist hikers?)

    This could have been so much worse. There is currently the Holy Jim fire raging in Cleveland Forest. Fire can break out at any time in CA and other drought states. I hope your friends and all the other first responders with Orange County stay safe.

    One more thing to remember when hiking during a heat wave in California – a red flag warning is a temptation to arsonists. Unless there was dry lightening, every single fire you hear about in CA is human caused – either accidental or on purpose. Keep an eye out for smoke during summer and be prepared to hustle out.

  12. Happy that Professor Turley survived and honestly reported about his ordeal.

    Maybe we can also draw some attention to the non violent prisoners in CA who are fighting fires to reduce their sentences – no thanks BTW to former AG Kamala Harris who sought to keep them in there during her tenure – these folks deserve some major kudos IMO

  13. We have rescue dogs, rescue cats, and now a rescue professor! Seriously, heat stroke can come on very quickly and unexpectedly. The closest I came was many years ago at Edwards AFB, also in the Calif desert. I had been out in the blazing sun for hours and was suddenly dizzy and nauseous. I was able to stabilize myself by getting to an air conditioned mess and drinking Gatorade and water. Of course, I was quite young then; I wouldn’t be so resilient now. The first responder who plucked JT out of the ravine must have been roasting in that Nomex flight suit, but he nonetheless performed flawlessly. Very impressive!

    1. Someone should tell Prof Turley not to go hiking after a night of heavy drinking!!!

      The risk of Heat Stroke is just to damn high at this height of summers heat.

      He should take it safe like I do.

      Go outside & do all my yard work in the hot sun & then come inside to the AC & drink beer half the night & post on Turley’s Blog! LOL

      Worst that can happen is he might fall asleep & fall out of his office chair. instead of fall into a Canyon! LOL

    2. TIN- “an air conditioned mess” – wow – does that even exist anymore? =) Mess halls used to rock IMO =)

      1. Autumn – At some point back in the 80s the government paid a consulting group which came up with the idea to change the name of the mess hall to dining hall; barracks became dorms; the base was referred to as a campus, and so forth. The Airmen didn’t accept it, and kept using the traditional terms. They wanted to be in the military, not college. In any case, that was long ago and hopefully the AF has abandoned that poor idea. It goes to show that if the govt pays a consultant, he’ll come up with a change, but it doesn’t mean that anyone will accept it.

        1. Thanks TIN – that explains a lot – consulting groups from what I’ve experienced rarely understand the culture of whatever organization they are brought in to rebrand. Good for the AF!!

  14. And here I thought Professor Turley was perfect.


    I’m never wrong.

  15. Reminds me of a day hike a friend and I took in the foothills of the Santa Cantalinas near Tucson. It was March and we thought 1.5 gallons each would be plenty. The day turned out hotter and dryer than expected, and when we got to the trailhead where my girlfriend was picking us up we were desperate for water. We headed for the water spigot and were quenching our thirst so religiously that it took some time before we realized we were standing on an anthill. When girlfriend pulled into the parking area she found us dancing frantically with our pants off, and almost turned around on the spot.

  16. JT, lovely article. Glad they were able to get you out. I do not think you would have made it to the Ranger Station, even with water. Please remember, once you have heat stroke, you are very liable to have it again. Oh, and get a new Camelpak.

    1. A simple way to avoid heatstroke is to take your vacations in New England or the Canadian Maritimes.

Comments are closed.