As an experienced backpacker, Frank Horath knew to check the weather forecast before leaving for an overnight hike with family members to an alpine lake in the Sierra National Forest.
The forecast said the weather would be clear in the mountains through the weekend, with a storm moving in Monday. They would be home well before then, he thought.
As Horath, his brother-in-law and their sons huddled in their camp on Oct. 16 nearly 9,900 feet high on the shore of Rae Lake, it became clear that the forecast had been wrong. The storm came early and was worse than expected.
They awoke on Oct. 17 to six inches of fresh snow. Watching more snow fall continuously, they knew they were trapped. "It just snuck up on us," Horath said.
By the time the storm let up Wednesday night, it had dumped four feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada's highest elevations and had whipped the mountains with 50 mph wind gusts. It stranded groups of backpackers and rock climbers from Yosemite National Park south to Mount Whitney, setting in motion a series of dramatic high-elevation rescues.
By Thursday, clear weather had allowed rescuers to reach all the stranded hikers, although two of the Yosemite rock climbers had died. Park rangers and rescuers credited the hikers' survival to their decision to remain in their tents until the storm broke.
Horath, 45; son Dominic, 16; brother-in-law Paul Bargetto, 47; and Bargetto's son Michael, 20, had packed lightly.
Once the storm hit, they decided that staying put was their only option.
They were forced into one tent after the other began leaking. They zipped their sleeping bags together for warmth. Even then, it was a struggle to stay warm and dry.
They rationed their food: five peanuts each for breakfast, a bit of oatmeal for lunch, a scoop of peanut butter for dinner.
One night, snow fell faster than could be kept away from the tent. "It was just coming down very rapidly, and at the same time the wind just started blowing at gusts of, I don't know," Horath said. "I was afraid the tent was going to break, and that would probably have been it at that point."