A Sacramento-area couple, rescued Wednesday afternoon after being stranded for days, recounted their ordeal to the press Thursday morning.
“I made the cardinal sin of not telling anybody where I was going and we didn’t prepare much,” said Mark Schroeder to a room full of reporters at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital.
Schroeder, 55, and his girlfriend, Janette DeGrace, 52, were stranded in a remote part of Placer County, west of Lake Tahoe.
The couple had been missing since Monday. Schroeder told reporters that they were just sightseeing near Georgetown for a day and planned to be home for dinner that night.Friends and family became suspicious after they missed family events.
“I told him, ‘I’m very thankful to see you alive, I’m gonna give you a big hug but, as soon as you’re better, you’re gonna get the biggest kick in the ass you’ve ever seen,’” said Schroeder’s father, John, just hours after the couple had been rescued Wednesday evening.
While taking a road to what he thought was Foresthill, Schroeder realized he was heading in the wrong direction and decided to turn around. That’s when the couple, in Schroeder’s Porsche 911, got stuck on the unplowed road near French Meadows and Hellhole Reservoirs.
“Everyone’s gonna say, ‘What are you driving a Porsche up in the snow for?’” said Schroeder. “It wasn’t snow (sic) where we were driving, except the one area where I got high-centered. The road was actually clear most of the way.”
Schroeder’s car had gotten stuck in the snow. Schroeder and DeGrace tried to call AAA, but there was no cell service, so they decided to wait through the night and dig the car out in the morning.
That night, Mother Nature dumped snow on the Sierra. It was impossible to dig the car out.
Making matters worse, search teams were looking in the wrong area. A woman at a winery reported seeing the couple, but Schroeder and DeGrace said they never visited any wineries, only bars.
The pair rationed out what food they had with them – a bag of trail mix, some Ritz crackers, some Girl Scout cookies and a couple of granola bars.
They allowed themselves a quarter of a granola bar and two crackers each for lunch and dinner, and a Girl Scout cookie for dessert.
While they were stranded, Schroeder dug an “SOS” message in the snow, and spelled “HELP” with branches on the ground. He also tried to signal “SOS” with his headlights and car horn.
DeGrace has a medical condition that requires medication, which they didn’t have. Wednesday morning, Schroeder decided to walk to find cell phone service.
“Yesterday I made the decision at 10 o’clock that I gotta walk out to find cell service, or we’re not gonna make it. She had enough gas to last two more nights, maybe three,” said Schroeder. The couple had periodically turned on the car for warmth, and to melt snow into drinking water.
Schroeder wrapped his feet in plastic, put on his shoes and hiked between six and seven miles through the snow before he found cell phone service.
“These were my shoes,” Schroeder said, referencing lightweight Adidas sneakers. “As you can see, there’s not a whole lot of traction on them.”
At times, Schroeder said, the snow was around three feet deep.
“The main thing that kept me going was I wanted to see my kids again,” said Schroeder, fighting back tears.
“I thought he was gonna walk to his death. I really thought I was never gonna see him again, and I thought I was gonna be dying in that car alone,” said DeGrace. “When he walked away from the car, I was doing O.K. until then. The gravity of the situation hadn’t really hit me as hard until he’s walking out there, then I fell apart.”
Schroeder finally got through to 911 with an hour of daylight left.
“I started crying. And then, when I heard the helicopter, I started crying again,” said Schroeder.
Schroeder told reporters that when he identified himself to the 911 dispatcher, she said, “Oh, yeah. We’ve been looking for you.”
A California Highway Patrol helicopter flew Schroeder to a waiting ambulance, and back to rescue DeGrace.
Despite hiking through that much snow, Schroeder did not suffer any frostbite but he did get quite a workout.
“I know one thing – I don’t have to go do a Stairmaster at the gym any time soon,” said Schroeder.
One reporter at the press conference said that the couple’s situation could “make or break a relationship.” Schroeder commended DeGrace for being so understanding and supportive through the whole ordeal.
“She was a trooper. A lot of women wouldn’t have been as understanding,” chuckled Schroeder after choosing his words carefully.
“It had to take a life and death situation for him to tell me he loves me,” laughed DeGrace.
The couple are happy to be back in civilization and back with their families. They expressed thanks to the dozens of search party members. Each member of the search party signed one of the maps they used in their efforts, and plan to frame it for Schroeder and DeGrace.
Watch Schroeder and DeGrace describe their survival in more detail by clicking here.