The Lost Runner 

How a runner's obsession left him missing in the wilderness.

Page 6 of 7

On Saturday, though, he had a change of heart. It was the weekend again, and more hikers would be out in the woods. He ascended the ridge once more but ran into a wild dog somewhere near the top. The dog growled, and Mintz picked up a big stick to scare it away. Frightened, Mintz scrambled back down to the stream, thinking there might be a pack of dogs lurking somewhere nearby. Then he saw Rudolf's helicopter.

By this time, Sergeant Basor had taken over the case, and he had called Kathie Krebser of the Lake County Search and Rescue Association to help amass resources. "At 11:30 hrs, 21 searchers responded to the sheriff's main office to be briefed on the search," Basor wrote in the incident report. Sixteen of those searchers were members of the Lake County K-CORPS (Kelseyville Community Organization for Rescue and Public Service), a program that trains high-school students in tracking, wilderness survival, and technical rope rescue. Basor deployed four teams of searchers to scout the roads and the trail at Summit Springs. He called CHP Air Operations and reserved an H14 helicopter to fly in the event that any new information came in. ("H14 had flown earlier that day for Colusa County and was changing flight crews," Basor wrote in his report.) He planned on requesting search dogs and ground searchers to continue the following day.

At 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, Basor received a call from Ben Jacobs announcing that John Mintz had been found. Josh and Ben had hiked four miles back to the trailhead from Angel Springs in order to get cell phone reception and call 911. (By then, one of Josh's shoes had fallen apart, and he was using a string to hold the sole in place.) Basor assembled his ground team — including the sixteen high-school students and two medics — and began the hike back to Angel Springs, with Josh and Ben in the lead.

"So then, their whole crew comes up — like twenty high-school kids from the K-CORPS, which I made fun of to no end," said Josh. "So they all come with their orange matching outfits and their backpacks and their headlamps and all that shit. So me and my dad were hella tired, and have just hiked up the mountain and down, and back out, start leading this group of twenty people — mostly high school kids and a couple adults — back up the trail at ten at night." Luckily, Josh managed to find some duct tape for his shoe. When they got in, Mintz had eaten dinner and was sound asleep in Josh's sleeping bag, clutching a bag of gorp. The rescuers woke him up, examined him, and decided to sleep there and lead him back out in the morning.

"I'm trying to be all rugged, so I'm like, 'I have a coat, I'm gonna be fine.' Fuckin' John Mintz was in a T-shirt," said Josh, who decided to sleep on a tarp outside. "Halfway through, I have to go sleep with my sister because it's really freakin' cold," he said. "Like, I'm in long pants, three layers on top, and I'm freezing my butt off. Like it is cold. I feel for John."

The next morning Mintz hiked back out with the search-and-rescue team at around seven. "The last thing we saw of him was him walking out on his own two feet, holding the gorp, and waving to us," said Josh.

Cases like Mintz' are extremely rare, said Lieutenant Shane Maxey of the Colusa County Police Department. Occasionally, motorcycle riders get lost because they get started on one trail and wind up on another, and don't know how to read a map or a GPS. Sometimes they'll start heading west instead of northeast and eventually run out of gas, said Maxey, but usually they'll run into a ranger station in Beat 5, and someone will help them out or give them fuel. Maxey said the search-and-rescue team usually operates two to three weekends a month from October to December. He can remember one instance in the last couple of years when a hiker got lost, but that person had a cell phone and was able to give the police a GPS heading.

Mintz got lost in an area with no bicycles or motorcycles. He was following a trail that's marked only with so-called ducks, small piles of stacked rocks, or blazes cut into the bark of adjacent trees. Some of the blazes were overgrown, and not visible to the untrained eye. "Sometimes there's no trail to Angel Springs," Ben Jacobs said, "and you're just going from duck to duck." A runner wouldn't be able to see those small landmarks, Josh said, noting that Mintz was further imperiled by his lack of trail knowledge and all the other things on his mind.

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