‘It was Life or Death:’ 18-Year-Olds Recall Harrowing Moments Stranded in Snowy High Sierra

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AUBURN — Two Auburn 18-year-olds are grateful to be alive after surviving nearly 24 hours stranded in the high Sierra with no cell service to call for help.

Mckenna Kelly and John Hansen became trapped in their snow-covered car after a brief hike near Foresthill.

Stuck on a backcountry road overnight in freezing temperatures, they had nothing but a tank of gas and their dog Marley by their side.

“We didn’t feel anybody was coming for us all night,” Hansen told FOX40.

The next morning, Kelly began showing signs of hypothermia, altitude sickness and even frostbite.

So Hansen went to get help, hiking 5 miles in the knee-deep snow to alert first responders.

“I don’t think I would have made it unless I had her in the back of my head because it was kind of … It was life or death, for sure,” he said.

Less than an hour later, the car died. Kelly was left without any heat.

“I said, ‘If I stay put for any more hours, I’m going to die,'” Kelly recalled.

She briefly set out on foot with the little clothing she had on, only to turn back moments later. Her clothes were soaked and her skin began to change color, so she decided to do something drastic.

“I ended up peeing on my legs so I’d get some heat in them because they were black and blue and purple,” Kelly said.

It was a move doctors say likely spared her limbs from amputation.

Thinking it was the end, Kelly began writing goodbye letters to her family. Then, help finally came.

“Finally, I was just looking out the window and I see a snowmobiler,” Kelly said.

Soon after, Kelly and Hansen were reunited with their families, bringing an end to their nightmare.

“Seeing their faces when I never thought I’d see them again was probably the best moment of my life,” Kelly said.

The teens received medical treatment for their injuries but are both expected to make a full recovery.

They said the experience left them with many lessons learned, including always packing food and water, letting others know when you’re going to an area without cell service and always keeping an emergency kit in your car.

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