Surviving in Joshua Tree National Park

When promiment real estate broker Ed Rosenthal went missing for six days in Joshua Tree National Park one summer weekend, people assumed that he was a goner. But as he recounts in this amazing story in Los Angeles Magazine, he survived.

I finally admitted that I was really and truly lost. I was in a wasteland of ditches near where the park ends. I was too weak to move up the hill to see what was on the other side. No one would ever have found me or my bones. I couldn’t eat. The dates I tried to chew on just stuck to my tongue—I had to spit them out. It was frustrating, but you eventually get over not eating. Afterward I was told I was lucky I didn’t eat, that if you have food while you’re severely dehydrated, your body has to use up resources to help with digestion.

As evening approached I spotted some yuccas nearby. I started to cut away the sheathing at the base of one with my Swiss Army knife—you can suck on the tendrils for water. The stalk was too tough, though: I didn’t want to be away from the tree at night, so I gave up, went back to the tree, and struggled to make myself comfortable. But even under those branches I didn’t feel sheltered on that open hillside. It was freezing. The emergency blanket was falling apart. I tried to wrap pieces around me like a mummy—they just blew off into the night. So I spent my time slathering Mercurochrome and antiseptic from the medical kit onto my cuts. It reminded me of how I’d needed to apply Mercurochrome to my legs after a quadruple bypass ten years earlier: A calamitous real estate deal had triggered the heart attack that led to the surgery; the memory of it helped keep me calm that night. I was determined not to have another heart attack. 

Near the end of his piece, Rosenthal writes:

The moment they gave me water, I threw up all over the helicopter. They brought me to the hospital and started filling me up with fluids. I was in the ICU for two days. I experienced some heart damage, and my left ankle is shot. I don’t know what it is; they can’t do anything about it. But the rest of me is stronger. I’m hiking again. More with the Sierra Club. Now I experience plants as not being a separate species. They’re like cousins. It’s not like, There’s me and there’s plants. There’s us. I’m overwhelmed by how incredible they are.

I’ve hiked in Joshua Tree in October, and even in middle of autumn, the heat takes a lot out of you (even on a moderate three hour hike). Ed Rosenthal’s piece is a must-read story of survival.