How the Missing California Hiker Says She Survived 9 Days in Forest

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By Erik Ortiz

The 62-year-old hiker missing in California's Sierra National Forest — then found alive after nine nightmarish days — described Tuesday how she slipped from a cliff and lay helplessly as helicopters searched above her.

But Miyuki Harwood was eventually rescued thanks to her gutsy determination and one tiny object: a whistle.

"I greatly appreciate the rescuers who found me and had not given up hope to find me," Harwood, who remains hospitalized, said in a statement released by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

Harwood was separated from her Sierra Club hiking companions on Aug. 20 — the sixth day of an eight-day trip. The group had reached the summit of a mountain, and Harwood said she decided to return to camp alone — a decision she regrets.

"It was getting dark," she said. "I tried to get back to the camp site but fell off the cliff. I landed on both legs."

Her left leg was in pain, and she was forced to camp overnight where she had fallen. By the next morning, she said, she couldn't stand on either leg.

Miyjki Harwood was missing for nine days in California’s Sierra National Forest.Courtesy Miyjki Harwood

She noticed helicopters flying above her, which she saw on a daily basis. The so-called Rough Fire, a 66,000 acre, month-old wildfire, was still burning about 10 miles away.

She had no food with her, but subsisted on a single liter of water stored in a bottle. She knew that to survive, she would need more.

She took stock of her surroundings. Below where she fell, she could hear water cutting through the woods. Carefully, she crawled down to the source of the water, she said. Using the water filter she had with her, she was able to stay hydrated.

"At night, I slept on the ground with my medium-weight jacket," she said. "It was very cold at night."

On Aug. 28, there was a glimmer of hope: human voices. She pulled her whistle out and blew. But they didn't hear her.

Related: After Missing for 9 Days, Calif. Hiker Is in 'Good Spirits, but Exhausted'

The next day, she heard the voices again. "I thought this was the last chance to do something for me to survive," Harwood said.

She took our her whistle and blew. This time, she heard her name. She blew again — over and over — and each time, the voices drew closer. She made out the figures of the rescuers.

"When I first saw them, it was a miracle and I was emotional," Harwood said. The crew helped to stabilize her leg and she was flown to the hospital by helicopter.

Harwood suffered a broken left leg and right ankle, and a fracture to her spine, her brother and sister-in-law said in a statement. While she must have additional surgeries in the coming weeks, Harwood's family said she's thankful to those who searched for her and remains "in good spirits."