Driver Follows GPS, Becomes Stranded for a Week

Shorter route wasn't plowed, turns out
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2021 2:00 PM CST
Driver Follows GPS, Becomes Stranded for a Week
The peaks surrounding Donner Pass in Truckee, California, on Jan. 30, while Harland Earls was stuck on a mountain road.   (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)

Harland Earls was driving through California's Sierra Nevada, on his way to a birthday party in Truckee last month, when his GPS suggested he turn up ahead for a shorter route. So he left Highway 49 for Henness Pass Road—which does, in hindsight, sound ominous during a snowstorm. He soon became stuck in the snow. Henness Pass Road isn't plowed; it's only open during the summer, WDJT reports. "The GPS doesn't know if there's six feet of snow on a road or if the road is clear and passable," Sierra County Sheriff Mike Fisher said. Earls, 29, spent seven days stranded there, as another 6 to 8 feet of snow fell. Last Sunday, after running out of food and water, he turned his snowboards into snowshoes and hiked to a high spot in search of cellphone service. His 911 call was dropped, per the Los Angeles Times, but the sheriff's department was still able to locate him. A helicopter was sent to rescue him.

Earls had one thing going for him, his mother said: a longtime interest in survival skills. Julie Earls said that when he was young, she'd often find him in the middle of the night reading a survival skills book by flashlight. He used a small propane camp stove to melt snow for drinking water, and he lived off two cans of beans, sausages and a few pieces of moldy bread. He was able to cut wood to keep a fire going. His cellphone got wet when he was trying to dig his truck out, but Earls found handwarmer packets and dry spaghetti noodles in his truck, which he put into a zipped plastic bag with his phone. In three days, the phone was dried out and charging, though he still had no signal. In the meantime, his family organized search parties. "I will not wait until spring to find his body," Julie Earls said at the time. "I will find him now if I have to go out there myself." His physical condition was good when he was rescued. "He just wanted to get home," his mother said. (More rescue stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.