ASHLAND, Ore. – A Medford man who spent two nights in the freezing cold and wet on Mt. Ashland after getting lost while snowboarding was found alive Tuesday morning.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) search and rescue (SAR) officials say snowboarder 27-year-old snowboarder Eli Kepsel was "cold but in good spirits" when rescuers found him just before 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
“This is the best outcome we could have hoped for,” said JCSO Sergeant Shawn Richards.
Authorities say that an SAR team from Klamath County was patrolling US Forest Service Road 2060 north of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area when Kepsel suddenly appeared from the hillside above the road.
"Kepsel was cold and hungry, but he was able to walk and talk to rescuers," JCSO said in a statement.
The SAR team gave Kepsel food and water before bringing him to a waiting ambulance from Ashland Fire & Rescue. Kepsel was reunited with his parents, and then transported to Rogue Regional Medical Center to be evaluated for hypothermia.
Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center now describes Kepsel as being in "fair" condition.
Kepsel’s mother reported him missing to JCSO on Monday, December 10, when he didn’t return from a snowboarding trip the day before. Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol members checked the ski area parking lot and found Kepsel’s vehicle was still parked there. While SAR prepared for the search operation, Ski Patrol started looking.
Deputies later learned that the last confirmed sighting of Kepsel was Sunday afternoon at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Search teams located some tracks in the snow beyond the boundary of the ski area, but it was not immediately known whether Kepsel made those tracks.
"One particular set of tracks in the snow provided searchers with Kepsel’s likely direction of travel. But as the tracks descended in elevation, a lack of snow made them more difficult to follow," JCSO said.
The bulk of the search efforts were conducted on the ground — with teams of hikers scouring likely travel routes through the forested terrain. JCSO said that Brim Aviation also provided air support on both days, searching by helicopter despite "less than favorable" weather conditions.
"There is no cell phone service on the back side of Mount Ashland, which limits the use of technology to locate people who go missing there," JCSO said.
Kepsel would later tell rescuers that he heard sounds made by searchers, "including sirens and a helicopter," but he was disoriented and he was not able to reply. Kepsel was not adequately prepared to spend the night in the backcountry, but he sheltered beneath the tree canopy each night.
Sergeant Shawn Richards said a search effort of this scale would not have been possible without help from other agencies.
“Just as they can count on us to help, we count on them to be ready and able to come here when we have a difficult search,” said Richards.
JCSO received assistance from search and rescue personnel from the following counties: Josephine, Klamath, Douglas, and Siskiyou (Calif.). Chaplains from Southern Oregon Public Safety Chaplains were on hand to support volunteers and Kepsel’s family members throughout the search.
SAR officials recently offered some tips for safety during winter recreation. The article can be found on the JCSO website.
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