An 18-year-old Modesto woman who had just graduated from Downey High School last week got separated from her backpacking group for about eight hours Tuesday in the Dardanelles wilderness area.
Fortunately, rescue workers from the Alpine County Sheriff’s Department found her shortly after 1 p.m. and took her back to her camp. The group of 13, which included members and sponsors of the Downey High Environmental Club, cut short their stay and returned to Modesto on Tuesday evening.
The group had hiked to Sword Lake on Monday and planned to return to Modesto today. Elisa Krieger, daughter of Modesto Covenant pastor Mark Krieger and his wife, Lori, had left her tent early Tuesday morning.
“They do this trip every year,” Mark Krieger said early Tuesday afternoon, shortly after his family received word Elisa had been found. “They thought she was just going to the bathroom, but she never returned. They looked for her but couldn’t find her and called the Sheriff’s Department about 10 a.m.”
Alpine County Sheriff Rick Stevens said Elisa Krieger left her tent around 5 a.m. and was found by Alpine Search and Rescue deputies as she was walking toward Spicer Reservoir, a few miles from her camp.
The deputies were on a boat when they saw her coming down the trail. They gave her some food and water and took her back to her group.
Richard Baum, Downey High School principal, said he was driving up to join the group when he received the good news and turned around. “This was not a school function, but I wanted to help out,” he said, adding that he knows the students and sponsors and wanted to be with them as the search continued.
“I followed them up yesterday (Monday) on my motorcycle and hiked in with them. I knew them well and wanted to make sure they were fine,” he said. “Elisa got disoriented and ended up at the wrong body of water. We’re all happy that this turned out well.”
The Kriegers, who drove up to the trailhead late Tuesday afternoon to meet the group and pick up their daughter, agreed. They said phone calls from Baum, the group’s sponsors and the sheriff’s office kept them informed throughout the day.
“We’re very thankful,” said Mark Krieger. “It was a blessing that they had good cellphone coverage up there and could call the authorities to get a search started right away. We felt so much support from our church, too, as they prayed and sent us messages. We’re just very, very thankful.”