FORESTHILL, CA - A California Highway Patrol helicopter pilot located a Foresthill hiker in a canyon bed on the North Fork of the American River Friday afternoon. He had been missing since Sunday.
Ryan Petifer, 31, has poison oak and cuts on his face and hands but is otherwise healthy after spending five full days trying to find a trail back to his car all week.
The avid hiker drove his car three miles into the woods, then hiked two miles down the steep and rugged Green Valley trail Sunday afternoon to go fishing.
"By the time it started to get dark and I couldn't find a good trail to get back up to where I needed to be," said Petifer. "I started realizing that I was going to miss work the next day and I needed to stay the night and just keep working on it the next day."
Petifer couldn't find a trail on Monday or Tuesday then decided to go down further into the canyon to a spot where search and rescue teams could find him.
"I finally found an old miner's camp with a bunch of tents thrown up and a bunch of sleeping bags and that made me think that maybe I could chill out here for a couple days."
He found a large patch of black berries and a stream of water to give him strength. However, the hot temperatures made it too dangerous to look for help during the day.
"Once the sun got above the canyon walls, I would just stay underneath these tarps and lie there and drink what water I had gotten in a jug."
There had been no contact from Petifer since Sunday evening when he texted his mother, said Lorrie Lewis with the sheriff's department. His family knew he had planned to go hiking and fishing that day.
The family reported him missing Tuesday and posted flyers everywhere they believed he may have gone hiking. His father, Paul Petifer, never gave up hope and drove along every road in the remote area day in and out since Sunday. On Friday morning, Petifer senior found his son's green 1998 Ford Mustang in the Sugar Pine Reservoir area.
A search and rescue helicopter pilot spotted Petifer Friday afternoon after seeing the man standing in the middle of the American River and flagging them down for help.
"When I heard the helicopter, and it was so low and I could feel the wind from the blades, I knew it was for me."
Petifer said he likes to go hiking nearly every weekend and was an Eagle Scout - so he knew what to do to survive. However, he said he made the ultimate mistake by not telling anyone where he was going.
By Natalie Sentz, firstname.lastname@example.org