Four adults from Southern California who tried to float the South Fork Tuolumne River with their dog Saturday on inflatable chairs, an air mattress and an Intex River Rat tube were reported missing overnight, then located safe Sunday and Monday, sheriff’s and search-and-rescue personnel said.
The South Fork Tuolumne in that area, between Hardin Flat and Rainbow Pools, is in a deep canyon lined with brush and downed trees that make the river almost impassable, Sgt. Jeff Hunt of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said.
Three people spent one night in the woods in their swimsuits, and a fourth person spent two nights out in shorts, sandals, a hat and glasses. He spent one night trying to sleep on a warm rock and the other night next to a log.
The group, identified as Jonathon Gilbert, 32, Joshua Lubeck, 32, Meghan Lubeck, 30, Nathan Lubeck, 36, and their dog, Eve, came from Los Angeles and Orange counties to camp at Yosemite Lakes RV Resort. They decided Saturday to float the South Fork Stanislaus from their camp down to Rainbow Pools.
A photo released Monday by the Sheriff’s Office shows the group smiling in the river, in bathing suits on their inflatables, with Eve swimming, before they left Hardin Flat on Saturday. It was hot over the weekend, with highs in the low 90s forecast for Yosemite Valley.
They left Yosemite Lakes RV Resort at 2:30 p.m. with a plan to meet other family members at Rainbow Pools at 4:30 p.m. Someone called the Sheriff’s Office at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the four tubers and their dog did not arrive.
A contingent of paid law enforcement and unpaid volunteers were called out to look for the group. Hunt, the sheriff’s search-and-rescue liaison, said two deputies, two California Highway Patrol helicopter pilots from Fresno and Auburn, and 18 volunteers took part in the search.
Sunday morning a CHP pilot in Helicopter H-20 from Fresno spotted Gilbert, Joshua Lubeck, Meghan Lubeck and their dog in a canyon area. Crew on board the helicopter helped hoist the three adults and the dog out. They were found about midway between Hardin Flat Road and Rainbow Pools.
Nathan Lubeck was not with the group. He had left the others at some point to scout the area on foot and try to find a way out.
While the search for Nathan Lubeck was still under way, sheriff’s personnel described the search area as “very treacherous with steep and rugged terrain.” Forest Service firefighters came out to clear brush so searchers could use all-terrain vehicles.
Diana Fredlund with Stanislaus National Forest public affairs said a dozen Forest Service personnel were assigned, including one engine crew, two patrol units, one battalion chief, one division chief and one law enforcement officer.
Sgt. Andrea Benson with the Sheriff’s Office said Nathan Lubeck spent Saturday night trying to sleep on a warm rock.
“At daybreak on Sunday, he continued walking looking for a way out of the area,” Benson said. “The search and rescue teams had been in the areas Nathan recounted walking through and had missed him as he continued to move locations. By nightfall he could see the bridge near Rainbow Pools but would not be able to safely navigate in the dark.”
Nathan Lubeck was described by deputies as a 36-year-old resident of Encino, a San Fernando Valley community in Los Angeles County. He is 6 feet 7 inches tall, 190 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes.
Early Monday he made it on foot to Rainbow Pools, Benson said. There he flagged down a passing motorist and got a ride back to Yosemite Lakes, where he was reunited with his family about 6:45 a.m.
“Nathan was fortunate that he was traveling along the river and able to keep himself hydrated,” Benson said Monday afternoon. “Other than some scratches and scrapes he did not receive any major injuries.”
Nathan’s brother, Joshua, and Joshua’s wife, Meghan, came from Valencia in L.A. County, and Gilbert came from Placentia in Orange County. They could not be reached for comment.
With four adults and a dog accounted for safe and unhurt, the South Fork Tuolumne search was the second Groveland area search-and-rescue incident with a best-case ending in recent days.
On Thursday last week the Sheriff’s Office estimated more than 60 people took part in a search for 85-year-old Carol Morgan, who went missing inside the gated Pine Mountain Lake community. Morgan and her dog Gigi were located safe and unhurt before the end of the day.
Hunt, the sheriff’s search-and-rescue liaison, said the South Fork Tuolumne flows at a slower rate below Hardin Flat due to check dams as it goes down toward Rainbow Pools. Hunt also said conditions on the South Fork Tuolumne right now are comparable to this time last year.
Rainbow Pools are natural swimming holes along the South Fork of the Tuolumne about 15 miles east of Groveland, just east of Rim of the World vista. Stanislaus National Forest staff manage the Rainbow Pool Day Use Area.
Back when Big Oak Flat Road was the main road where Highway 120 is now, Rainbow Pools was a toll stop on a stagecoach route.
Rainbow Pools was also a resort until 1958 when fire burned the resort. Now Rainbow Pools is a picnic and swimming destination with vault toilets and limited parking.
Hunt said Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Search-and-Rescue personnel have taken part in 20 to 25 missions so far this year, including three in the past week-and-a-half. This was the team’s first river rescue this year.
Hunt offered advice for people who go out in the mountains, woods and rivers of Tuolumne County right now.
“Research the area you will be in,” Hunt said. “Look at maps, hiking trails, know the conditions of the waters you are headed into and know what your experience level is and your limitations.”
People should also know their gear and “use the proper equipment for the sport or task at hand and be familiar with the capabilities of your water sports tubing equipment,” Hunt said.
It’s important to follow a manufacturer’s recommendations for water tubing capacity in terms of size and weight, and number of riders.
Anyone interested in river rafting should choose a licensed, professional rafting outfitter, Hunt said. And pick locations where it’s safe to engage in water activities.
“There have been many warnings of cold and fast flowing rivers due to rapid snow melt occurring during these high summer temperatures,” Hunt said. “This is an added danger as nature is unpredictable.”
People having fun in Tuolumne County rivers should wear helmets and life vests, Hunt said. Anyone who goes out into the woods should go with at least one buddy, and notify friends and family of plans including the day of return.
“This can easily save your life and gives emergency personnel a starting point and general idea of where to look,” Hunt said. “Most people who perish in the wild do so because they could not be found.”