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ABC7 Exclusive: Lost hikers relive freezing overnight ordeal

January 3, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Two sisters were stranded on a freezing cold mountain for 16 hours after getting lost on a hike. The sisters spoke to Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview Thursday about their day hike that turned into a life-threatening ordeal.

The young women got lost in the Pine Mountain Club area and had to brave an entire night in the frigid cold. They had no phones and no gear, but they had each other.

"Well, the first thing we did was howled like wolves," said Ariel Fitzmorris, one of the two sisters who got lost hiking.

A howl to guide rescuers turned into screams for help. Ariel Fitzmorris, 16, is still recovering in the hospital from hypothermia. She and her sister, 21-year-old Allison Fitzmorris, recounted their hike to a summit in Frazier Park, up 8,000 feet. The ascent, it turned out, was the easy part.

"We were like, 'Wow, the sunset's so beautiful -- oh no,'" said Allison. "And then we realized that we'd have to get down really quickly."

Darkness, and now they were stranded. It would be 16 hours before they would be plucked off the mountain. At the time of the desperate search no one knew if they would ever be found, especially the two sisters. They huddled tightly through the night, taking turns dozing off.

It had been snowing, and then came the gusts. The wind chill temperature plunged to 18 degrees.

"I was wearing jeans, running shoes," said Ariel.

They weren't wearing a stitch of snow gear. In the climbing they lost their gloves, but not their survival instincts. One always stayed awake to prod the other, fighting off the sleep that can lead to a death spiral.

"Disorientation, confusion, apathy -- like giving up, and that's why it was really fortunate enough for both of them that they were both together to give each other emotional support," said Dr. Oliver Sahagun, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

"I am so glad that I had someone there with me because I know that if I didn't, I would be dead right now," said Ariel.

They cried, they prayed. Especially when the helicopter nearly missed them the next morning. Allison stripped off her red shirt and waved it.

Their thoughts now, they say, are of gratitude to God and to the rescuers.

"Thank you, thank you, I never thought that I would appreciate this as much as I do," said Allison.