ORANGE, Calif. – One of two hikers who got lost in the Southern California wilderness last week said Monday she remembers little about her four-day ordeal because she began hallucinating on the first night after the pair finished the three bottles of water they had and darkness fell.
Kyndall Jack, 18, and her friend, Nicolas Cendoya, went missing on March 31 in Cleveland National Forest after wandering off a trail during what they thought would be a short day hike. The pair had picked the hike on the popular Holy Jim Trail almost at random after deciding they wanted to climb to a mountaintop to "touch the clouds," Jack said at a brief news conference.
She said the last thing she remembers is fighting off an animal with Cendoya after darkness fell, but she does not recall how the two got separated or what she did between then and her rescue. She hallucinated she was being eaten by a python, she tried to eat rocks and dirt, and thought that tree twigs were straws from which she could suck water.
"I honestly didn't even know I was missing, I didn't know I was gone, I didn't know anything was going on," she said. "I just thought I was in a big dream."
Jack was plucked by helicopter from a tiny rocky outcropping on a near-vertical cliff Thursday, after searchers followed her cries for help across a canyon and up several dried-up waterfalls. She was severely dehydrated, could not move one arm and complained of shortness of breath and pain in her chest and legs, rescuers said at the time.
Her mouth was so full of dirt the first man to reach her was afraid she would choke if he gave her water.
Cendoya, 19, had been rescued the night before after a volunteer searcher heard him call out from chest-high brush not far from where Jack was found. He was released from the hospital Sunday and the two have since seen each other and tried to make sense of their hallucinations with little luck.
Jack, who was expected to be released late Monday, has frostbite in her left hand and swelling, cuts and bruises on her legs that still make walking difficult.
She sat in a wheelchair and appeared weak during a brief news conference outside the University of Irvine, California Medical Center. The ends of her fingernails were ragged and still coated with dirt and she wore a bandage on one arm, moccasins on her swollen feet and a neon yellow hospital bracelet that said "Fall Risk."
The hike started out well but things quickly went wrong when they left the trail, she recalled.
"We just saw a good place and we were like, `Oh, we're just going to scale the mountain here," she said.
They realized as darkness fell that they were lost and nowhere near the mountaintop and Cendoya called 911 twice on his dying cell phone.
In the second call, he and Jack can be heard having a tense conversation as the operator tries to determine where exactly they are in the 720-square-mile national forest -- a vast wilderness that runs smack up against the suburban comforts of southeastern Orange County.
"Yeah, we wandered off the trail. We wandered off the trail," Cendoya told the operator. "I don't even know if we'll make it to the morning because we have no water."
At one point, Jack can be heard in the background telling Cendoya there is something moving in the wilderness and at another point, she cries out for help as the operator tells the pair deputies are on foot searching for them.
"We don't hear them, but we screamed and my echo went out for miles," Cendoya says during the nine-minute call.
Jack said Monday that she panicked as the darkness closed in around them. She tried to climb a tree and use her lighter to provide a signal for rescuers, but she dropped it. She thinks she remembers fighting off some type of animal with Cendoya before the two began to slip in and out of consciousness -- but that, too, could have been a dream.
"I started to get like an anxiety attack and I started throwing up and I just lost it. I just went in and out of consciousness after the 911 call," she said.
"We just kept telling each other, `Don't close your eyes. Don't fall asleep,"' she said.
Jack vaguely remembers "scooting" down a steep embankment -- likely the cliff where she was found -- but she isn't sure when she did that and how she managed to cling to the rocks for so long.
The teen warned other hikers to pack more water and supplies and not stray off the trail.
She also said she'd like to thank two of her rescuers in person: The first reserve sheriff's deputy who reached her and the paramedic who airlifted her to safety in a harness.
Another Orange County reserve sheriff's deputy who participated in the rescue slipped and fell 10 feet, hitting his chest on a rock before falling another 50 feet and hitting his head. He suffered cuts to his head, a punctured lung, broken ribs and other injuries. He was released from intensive care over the weekend and upgraded to fair condition.