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Family Rescued After Being Lost in Snow for a Week : Storm: Soldier walks for help after leaving his wife and baby in a cave. All three are in good condition.

January 07, 1993|JENIFER WARREN and DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CEDARVILLE, Calif. — A California couple and their infant son who were missing for a week were found alive Wednesday in a remote corner of northwest Nevada after being stranded in snow and freezing weather and seeking refuge in a cliffside cave.

"All three of them appear to be in remarkably good condition," said Diane Robertson, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol.

Army Pfc. James Daniel Stolpa, 21, wandered into Vya, a small town 20 miles east of Cedarville, where a road crew found him in an incoherent state about 11 a.m., authorities said. Stolpa had hiked more than 40 miles to reach the outpost, having left his family two days earlier in the cave in a snow-swept, rocky sheep pasture known as Hell's Canyon.

Jennifer Stolpa, 20, and their 5-month-old son, Clayton, were discovered in the cave about 5:20 p.m. by rescuers whom Stolpa guided to the site. Authorities said Stolpa identified landmarks and terrain by radio from Cedarville, where he was treated briefly at a hospital before being rushed to a rescue command post.

The baby was reported in good condition, having survived the ordeal by nursing, while Stolpa and his wife--who was wearing thin socks and tennis shoes--suffered frostbite and mild hypothermia, authorities said. The family had a sleeping bag and extra clothing but no food or water in the cave, and the couple had to eat snow to survive, authorities said.

"It is a good thing he had the common sense to put his wife and baby in that cave," said Modoc County, Calif., Sheriff Bruce Mix, whose department was among five law enforcement agencies in two states involved in the rescue. "If he hadn't, they would probably be dead. I doubt they could have survived the trek into Vya."

After the rescues, the family was taken by snow tractor to Surprise Valley Community Hospital in Cedarville, about a two-hour trip through deep snow covering gravel roads. "I've never been so much happier to see people in my whole life. We just want to get home and see family," Jennifer Stolpa told Associated Press as she was taken into the hospital. "We're fine."

Relatives from the Bay Area were scheduled to join the family at the hospital late Wednesday.

Stolpa, a satellite equipment repairman at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, told authorities the family's pickup truck, which is equipped with an aluminum shell, became mired in deep snow drifts in Nevada's Humboldt County sometime last week en route to Pocatello, Ida., where they were to attend a funeral for Stolpa's grandmother.

Relatives said the Stolpas had planned to drive east on Interstate 80 into Nevada, then turn north on U.S. 93 in the eastern part of the state. But because of wintry conditions, authorities said, the family took an alternate route, proceeding east on California 299.

They passed through Alturas and Cedarville in Modoc County and became stranded about 40 miles east of the California border, where the road turns to gravel and is renamed Washoe County Road 8A. The road is seldom traveled in winter, Washoe County officials said.

Authorities do not know how long the family stayed with the disabled vehicle, but early Sunday, with the baby bundled in their arms, the couple began walking east on a snow-covered road in hopes of reaching Nevada 140.

About four miles from their disabled truck, the family came upon Hell Creek, an off-road trail, which they followed for 12 miles to Hell's Canyon and the cliffside cave.

All three family members spent Sunday night in the cave, authorities said. About 9 a.m. Monday, Stolpa left his wife and son and walked back to the truck, arriving about nine hours later, authorities said. He spent Monday night in the truck, rising Tuesday morning and hiking west on County Road 8A for about 24 hours to Vya, a rugged desert area with no phones or electricity.

"This guy is in the armed forces and I am assuming he had some training," said Don Vetter, a Washoe County public affairs officer. "He had a guardian angel and was living right. This area is brutal."

Eddy said the Stolpas had packed fruitcake, cookies and vitamins when they set out for Idaho on Dec. 29, but authorities said the family had no food or water left when they became stranded.

The Stolpas left Hayward just as a severe storm struck the Sierra Nevada and northern Nevada, eventually dumping up to nine feet of snow on their intended route. Temperatures over the last week in the area ranged from a low of minus 4 degrees to a high of 42, the National Weather Service said.

The family was reported missing Jan. 1 when they failed to arrive for the funeral, authorities said.

Warren reported from Cedarville and Murphy from Los Angeles.

Family Found

Army Pfc. James Stolpa, his wife Jennifer and their 5-month-old son were found Wednesday in a remote area near Vya, Nev., after being stranded in freezing weather for days. The family was in good condition.

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