Joe Hawkins. Photo/Submitted
Joe Hawkins does not own a cellphone or have a permanent place of residency in Mammoth, making his three-night disappearance almost undetectable.
During the first snowstorm of 2012, Hawkins was in the wilderness with no sleeping bag and no way to call for help.
Hawkins is 27 years old and moved to Mammoth in 2005. He worked various jobs, at one point selling ski tickets at Canyon Lodge. He snowboards and also skateboards well enough to have earned a Kosher Skateboards sponsorship.
On Saturday, Jan. 21, at around 11 a.m., Hawkins hiked to Minaret Vista for a day-long snowboarding trip. He went alone.
“The terrain led me too far right,” he said. “I ended up at the fire road near the bottomless pit.” With the snowfall and darkness, Hawkins was unable to hike out that day. Instead, he dug a shelter beneath a tree using his gloves and his feet.
In his backpack, Hawkins had an odd assortment of supplies: metal chopsticks, a bottle of whiskey, a can of soup, two lighters, a bottle of club soda, a jar of peanut butter, and a serrated butter knife.
The next day, Hawkins began his ascent through Red’s Meadow. He left the fire road, thinking that a straight climb over the hill would be quicker. He thought about the mountain lion he had seen a month ago, coyotes, and the possibility of an avalanche.
“I prayed a lot,” he said. “I surprised myself with how calm I was.”
Hawkins said he ate a lot of snow and kept aware of his body temperature.
He sometimes stood on tree branches and logs to avoid keeping his feet in the snow.
It wasn’t until Monday night when Hawkins started a fire and melted snow for water. To do this, he assembled a drip-line. First he poured out the contents of his whiskey bottle. Then he lit a fire, using the trash in his backpack as kindling. He pushed the snow in a half-circle around the fire with a pivot at one end, so that the melting snow would trail the pivot into the whiskey bottle. He filled his whiskey bottle twice.
“I felt relieved to have what felt like fresh water,” he said. That night he also opened his can of soup by first piercing it with the metal chopsticks, then prying it open with the serrated butter-knife.
By Tuesday, Hawkins found himself beyond the tree line of Red’s Meadow. He was making progress using his snowboard-ladder technique, pushing his board into the snow and pulling himself up the hill. A group of snowmobilers followed the tracks.
“One of the snowmobilers said I was lucky to be alive,” Hawkins said of his four-day ordeal. He had avoided frostbite on his feet, but said they remain numb to pressure.