Man stranded in California snowstorm found safe a week later

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SIERRA COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – A Northern California man who survived a powerful snowstorm while lost for a week in the Sierra County mountains was found safe Sunday.

The Sierra County Sheriff’s Office was notified that on Jan. 24 that Tahoe resident Harlan Earl never completed the roughly 60 mile-trip from Grass Valley, a city in the Sierra foothills, to the town of Truckee near Lake Tahoe.

Earl later told authorities his trouble started when a snow closure forced him onto Highway 49, which his GPS told him was the quickest route. Unfortunately, his GPS device didn’t account for a winter road closure at Henness Pass due to heavy snowfall.

Earl told deputies he got stuck on Henness Pass Road and could not turn around.

The day after Earl set out, an atmospheric river walloped the state and “blanketed much of our high country in 6 to 8 feet of snow,” according to Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kress.

Deputies said his family put together search parties and checked all along Highway 49 in Nevada, Yuba and Sierra counties, but they weren’t able to find him. The family notified authorities in those counties and they were on alert with photos of Earl and his vehicle.

On Sunday, one week later, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from Earl.

“He was able to hike out from his truck camper by using snowboards strapped to his feet as snow shoes, up to a high point to call 911,” Kress said.

Although the call was dropped, the sheriff’s office was able to confirm his identity and determine his GPS location.

Officials said Earl was calling from Henness Pass Road near Alleghany in Sierra County, an area that received heavy snowfall the past week and was not accessible by road.

The search-and-rescue team for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office went to search the area on a snowcat and were helped by a California Highway Patrol helicopter.

The CHP helicopter crew located Earl and was able to land and take him to a local hospital. He was in good condition and declined treatment.

The sheriff’s office said Earl was able to survive in his vehicle for a week stuck in a snowed-in road because he was prepared with winter clothing, a camper and propane.

“He was very, very fortunate to have the experience and the equipment to survive out that time frame,” Kress said. “Your normal person who did the same thing in their vehicle and got snowed in right before this storm, I think it’d be very rare for them to be able to as well for that length of time.”

Earl was able to look for cellphone service Sunday after conditions improved.

Authorities warn winter travelers to not always rely on GPS driving directions, particularly in the winter months.

“He was very lucky and a very happy ending,” Kress said. 

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