By JOSHUA WOLFSON
Two sticks of gum and a pair of almost empty lighters.
Those items combined with sheer will and perhaps luck allowed a pair of snowboarders to endure a night of blizzard conditions after losing their way at Dodge Ridge Ski Area.
Tony Maciel of Ponderosa Hills and Joel Fell of Twain Harte were rescued Saturday around noon, about 21 hours after getting lost while snowboarding in an out-of-bounds area of Dodge Ridge.
To survive, the pair trudged through chest-high snow and huddled for warmth in natural snow caves.
They relied on each other for warmth and encouragement, Maciel said.
"If it wasn't for (Fell), there is no way I would have made it, and vice versa," he said yesterday.
Their ordeal began shortly before 3 p.m. Friday, when the experienced snowboarders headed down the mountain from the top of Chair 7.
"We were just enjoying nice fresh powder," he said.
However, the heavy snow also created near-blinding conditions.
"It was completely white out," he said. "That is why we got lost."
They tried to hike back up the mountain, but after deciding that was too difficult, Maciel, 24, and Fell, 23, hatched a plan. They would ride down to the South Fork of the Stanislaus River, then follow it to Pinecrest Lake to get help.
At times the snow was armpit-deep, and the pair, who both work as Stanislaus National Forest Hotshots, had to use their snowboards to prop themselves up and move forward. As they slogged along, icicles formed on their goatees.
"It was pretty gnarly," said Maciel. "Up through the canyon it was pretty windy."
Although Maciel normally snowboards with a backpack holding a compass, gloves and snacks, on this day, he and Fell between them had just the gum and lighters that ran out of fuel early that evening.
Most of the time they hiked, taking only short breaks because movement meant warmth.
"I was getting pretty cold. Everything we had was frozen," he said.