Woman survives 6 days in Sierra
December 7, 2012
A Gardnerville woman is recovering from mild frostbite at a Carson City hospital after spending six nights stranded in a remote area of Hope Valley. Her boyfriend died in an apparent attempt to hike to a highway during a snowstorm the morning after their Jeep Cherokee got stuck on a dirt road near a small Alpine County, Calif., mountain lake.Gardnerville resident Paula Lane, 46, and boyfriend Roderick Paul Clifton, 44, were reported missing after they left Citrus Heights, Calif., on the afternoon of Nov. 29.Family members late the next night called Douglas County 911 Services, which serves as dispatch for Alpine County, to ask searchers to check Burnside Lake. Douglas authorities said that message was passed on to Alpine County shortly after midnight.On Wednesday, five days later, Lane was found along Burnside Lake Road by her brother Gary, who took a frontloader from a nearby state transportation shed and drove up the road. Alpine County Undersheriff said the brother was convinced that the couple had gone to Burnside Lake, where they’d camped before. “Gary Lane commandeered a CalTrans front loader that was parked in a sand shed nearby,” Levy said. “Lane drove up the road with the loader for several miles where he found Lane distressed. Lane loaded Paula Lane into the bucket of the loader and returned her to Highway 88. Once there, they proceeded to Sorensen’s,” a small resort on Highway 88.Levy said Clifton decided to try out the four-wheel-drive capability of the 1989 Jeep Cherokee, which had just been purchased, and drove around a locked gate blocking access to the road. But the vehicle became stuck in mud at Burnside Lake. The U.S. Forest Service had closed dirt roads throughout the Sierra for the season on the same day, because of the expected storm.Levy said the couple spent the night in their vehicle, and on the morning of Nov. 30, as a major storm was rolling into the Sierra, Clifton tried to walk down to Highway 88, about six miles away. “Lane attempted to convince Clifton to stay with the vehicle,” Levy said. “Lane stayed with the vehicle until Monday when she attempted to walk and crawl out.”Lane told responders she’d found Clifton’s body while making her way down the road. Searchers from El Dorado and Alpine counties rode snowmobiles up the road and found the body about a mile north of Burnside Lake.Lane is at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center recovering after she arrived there at 9 p.m. Wednesday. Lane’s older sister, Linda Hathaway, spoke at a press conference at the hospital on Thursday afternoon.“My sister is doing well,” she said. “The family has been through a lot. My nephews and my mom and I are very happy she made it. It’s been a rough haul waiting all those days.”The mother of 11-year-old twin boys, Hayden and Samuel, Lane is eager to get home to them, Hathaway said.“All I can tell you, is she wants to get better so she can get home to her babies,” she said. “It is hard to sit there as a family waiting. You don’t know, your mind plays (through) so many things.” Hathaway said her brother said he had a feeling about where they were.“We couldn’t stop him, we just let him do what he had to do,” she said. “He had a feeling. They have a special bond, they really do. It is an unusual bond, it is different than the one I have with my sister.”A friend was with her brother when they found her. After they got Lane to a certain point, Hathaway said they cut her clothes off her to get her warm. They knew she was near hypothermia.“Last night, I gave her the biggest kiss I could without hurting her,” she said. “My sister may be little, but she’s mighty. She is a survivor and she loves life. God was looking over her.”Dr. Vijay Maiya reported that her condition is remarkably good for spending most of a week in the mountains.“She is currently in stable condition and recovering nicely,” he said. “She has a long road ahead of her, both physically and emotionally.”She suffered from first-degree frostbite on her toes. First degree is the mildest form, fourth being the worst. She also was malnourished. “Once she found out her loved one wasn’t coming back she knew she couldn’t stay in the truck and attempted to then go and find help on her own,” the doctor said.She ate and drank snow to stay hydrated. Before the couple left California, they stopped at family members’ homes and got some tomatoes, which helped to sustain her during the ordeal.The doctor said they found Lane in a hollowed-out tree.“She realized after she left that she couldn’t make it, so she had a blanket and tomatoes and (stayed) in a hollowed tree until rescued,” he said. “She was lucky, I can’t comment exactly on what she did to stay warm, but she was very lucky.”Maiya said he is hoping to keep her just through the weekend at the hospital, and that’s just precautionary. Clifton’s cause of death is pending an autopsy, Levy said.The search came to light on Monday after Citrus Heights authorities issued a bulletin asking people to be on the lookout for the couple and describing the blue 1989 Jeep they were last seen in.At one point a helicopter joined the search tracing their route up Highway 50 and over Luther Pass on Highway 89 to the junction with Highway 88. Cell phone reception is almost nonexistent in the Sierra around Hope Valley.• Nevada Appeal News Editor Adam Trumble contributed to this report.