PORTLAND — Pacific Crest Trail hiker Alejandra Wilson has returned home to Portland after spending a week hunkered down in a tent as search crews tried to find her.
Wilson had been hiking the estimated 2,650-mile trail, which spans from Mexico up to the Canadian border, since May. Wilson’s father, Dane Wilson, reported her as overdue for a check-in on Sept. 30.
Wilson had left Trout Lake and was headed for White Pass near Mount Adams when a heavy storm hit. She said when she first woke up and saw snow on her tent, she realized she was in for trouble. She knew she couldn’t hike out of the deep snow, and would have to wait out the weather.
“It was almost like shock, but then it was just business mode,” she said.
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Knowing some survival skills, Wilson started to ration her food, water and fuel. Although she had her phone, she didn’t have a signal or a navigation system. An experienced hiker, Wilson goes by the nickname “Rocket Llama.”
As it continued to snow, Wilson said she simply tried to stay warm and alive. She heated water so she could put a hot water bottle in her sleeping bag. But it was still cold enough she says she couldn’t sleep, instead spending the nights sitting up and shivering.
On Oct. 4, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter joined the search, and was unsuccessful in finding her. Multiple ground searches by the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and volunteer groups had been going all week.
Wilson said she heard the helicopter, ran outside and looked up, but the crew failed to spot her. She said she faced the possibility that she wouldn’t make it.
On Saturday, the snow finally got hard enough Wilson could hike out. She followed a creek out of the forest and into a campground. The first person she saw after eight days in the wilderness was a motorcyclist.
Jim Klaas had been riding his motorcycle by Mount Adams when he spotted Wilson. When she asked for directions, he pointed her toward the road. He then alerted search crews when he realized she was the girl they were looking for.
Authorities then came and picked her up. Wilson was checked over, and although cold and tired, in good health.
Dane Wilson said he saw his daughter within half an hour of hearing she’d made it out of the woods. He said it was “hard to explain” his reaction to seeing her. He’s spent the last week worrying about her freezing, and knowing more bad weather was on the way.
“At that point it was so hard to hang on to any kind of hope at all,” he said. “To look up the road and see her walking along like nothing was wrong was almost as shocking as it was to be thinking she was gone. It was kind of a stunned joy.”
Dane Wilson was proud of his daughter for keeping her composure. He’d been keeping a vigil with family and friends in Packwood, Lewis County, while she was missing.
“She kept an extremely level head and made very good decisions all the way around,” he said.
Thinking back on her experience, which she says was unlike any other hiking trip, Wilson said she’s only more inspired to keep hiking. She’d walked more than 2,000 miles in the past five months, and plans to eventually finish up the Pacific Crest Trail.