Monday morning, Mayor Gayla Brumfield was wearing her mother’s hat as she waited for confirmation her son had been rescued from a storm that stranded his hiking group in a California forest.
Derek Brumfield was among a group of 32 hikers pulled from the Los Padres National Forest Monday morning after a freak spring storm swelled rivers and dumped snow in Southern California, stranding more than a hundred in remote park areas.
“He’s fine, he’s safe and we’re just so thankful,” Gayla Brumfield said Tuesday. “He mentioned the hike but I didn’t think that much about it. He does hiking, and he enjoys it,” she said, explaining she was surprised when she received word there was trouble.
The 34-year-old Santa Barbara stock broker and 1994 Clovis High School graduate said he is an enthusiastic hiker who has made multiple trips with the Los Padres Sierra Club professional hiking group.
Before setting out Saturday, he said they knew there was rain in the forecast, but had no idea the magnitude of the storm that was coming.
“Nobody knew that the sky was just going to open up the way it did, it was a pretty epic storm,” Derek Brumfield said. “We had set up camp and had dinner that night and it drizzled a little bit. … By the time we woke up in the morning we had gone through a pretty torrential downpour.”
Officials said the weekend storm dropped more than 3.5 feet of snow throughout the park.
The group of 19 Sierra Club members went into the forest Saturday morning and split into three groups with the intention of spending the night and hiking out Sunday morning, according to a press release by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
By Sunday afternoon, family members of the hikers were contacting law enforcement to report that they were overdue returning home.
Brumfield said his group of six woke Sunday morning to discover the small creek they crossed on their way in had turned into a river that was impassable and knew they were going to have to wait for rescue.
“That was one of the worst parts. When we came in and crossed the creek it was literally just a step over. By the time we woke up the next morning it was a raging river, that’s how quick it happened,” he said. “We decided that the best move was to set up camp another night and wait it out. … Our hope was that somebody was sending out for search and rescue; that was the only way we were getting out.”
They had plenty of supplies to make it through the additional night, he said, but by then, they and all their gear were soaking wet and they were fighting the cold.
The next day when a sheriff’s helicopter located them, Brumfield said it was a relief.
Because the helicopter was unable to land, each of the six had to be extracted by 100-foot hoists and lifted from the area.
Last in the group to be lifted out, Brumfield said, “I had to watch the other five people get hoisted out before I did (and) I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but given my options, I was ready to get out of there.”
Brumfield said her son’s wife delayed contacting her until Monday morning, not wanting to worry her and her husband until more information was known. By the time she learned of the predicament her son was in, the news had turned positive and she said rescue efforts were already under way.
In hindsight, she said her daughter-in-law probably made the right call, because if she and her husband had known sooner, they would have flown to California immediately.
Sheriff’s officials reported three people were treated for hypothermia after being rescued, but Brumfield said none of those were in his group.
Brumfield said the first thing he did when he got back to his car was start making phone calls to family and friends to let everyone know he was OK.
He said the experience isn’t going to stop him from future backpacking trips, but “I’ll at least go backpacking in a place where a helicopter can land.”
Another group of nearly 100 teens were stranded in a different area of the park until crews were able to clear the roads to them using snow plows.
A milder storm was expected to hit the state on Wednesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.