A hiker who was last seen on Feb. 17 at the Hetch Hetchy entrance to Yosemite National Park was found alive above Wapama Falls on Friday with minor injuries but in an overall healthy condition.
Alan Chow, 36, of Oakland, had been hunkered down at an elevation of 5,500 to 6,000 feet above Wapama Falls in an area that received intermittent snowfall on Sunday, Monday and during Thursday night’s storm, Yosemite National Park spokesperson Scott Gediman said.
Temperatures had dropped in the “teens at night” and hovered at about 30 to 40 degrees during the day, he added, but Chow had melted snow for water, rationed his food, and remained in the same location.
“He said. ‘I'm going to set up my tent and stay put because they're going to find me,’” Gediman said.
“He did all of the right things. It wasn't like someone in shorts in a t-shirt. It was both being prepared, going out, and once he got into trouble, doing the right things.”
Chow, who had received a backcountry permit for the Hetch Hetchy area for three days beginning on Feb. 17, had last been seen alone at the Hetch Hetchy entrance on Saturday and his vehicle was located at a Hetch Hetchy-area trailhead when the search was initiated.
Chow had been reported missing on Tuesday when he did not return to work as scheduled.
On Friday at about 12 p.m., Chow was spotted from a National Park Service helicopter, Gediman said. Emergency personnel loaded Chow and his belongings into the aircraft before transporting him to Hetch Hetchy Ranger Station.
As of about 4 p.m. on Friday, Chow was still debriefing with emergency personnel about how he lost the trail, Gediman said, but he was expected to be able to depart with his family Friday evening.
Wapama Falls is about three miles from the Yosemite National Park Hetch Hetchy entrance at the O'Shaughnessy Dam. Chow was located “off the trail somewhere” above the waterfall that flows into the reservoir.
Gediman said he did not have information about Chow’s minor injuries, but noted that he was not hypothermic, and had been “able to keep himself warm” with adequate clothing and a tent.
Gediman said Chow had maintained experienced hiking guidelines to remain safe.
Not roaming the area and maintaining his location, he said, was likely the key to his survival and discovery by the rescue officials.
“You have to know that we’re going to be looking for you so if you move it's going to be harder for us,” he said.
Gediman did not have information readily available on the number of hikers who had been found alive, dead, or not found at all in recent history at Yosemite National Park, but said “overall there's a lower chance of people being found safe when they’re alone rather than in groups.”
Being alone, Chow’s survival was even more incredible, Gediman said.
“Over the last 20 years I've been here, the ones that don't turn out well, there's been a higher percentage of people that go out alone rather than with a group,” he said. “The important and the wonderful thing is that he’s fine.”
Over 60 people participated in the search since Tuesday, and included resources from YOSAR, California Highway Patrol, Bay Area Mountain Rescue, California Office of Emergency Services, Marin County Search and Rescue, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office, El Dorado County Sheriff's Office, Contra Costa County Search and Rescue, Southern California Winter Ski team and Yosemite search dogs.
Wapama Falls, which descends in its totality about 1,400 feet, is known as a dangerous location for hikers and thrill seekers alike.
In June 2017, a man slipped on a bridge at the falls and was swept into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, where he drowned. In 2011, two men were swept to their deaths on a trail below the falls by high runoff.