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Missing hiker found alive after 6 days in Joshua Tree National Park

Ed Rosenthal, a prominent real estate broker from Culver City and an experienced hiker, was alert and able to talk and walk when found but was dehydrated and is in fair condition.

October 01, 2010|By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Joshua Tree — Lost in a hot, dry, rugged canyon in Joshua Tree National Park, with no water and no food, Ed Rosenthal, a prominent real estate broker and experienced hiker from Culver City, took out a pen and started to write on his hiking hat.

Rosenthal, a poet, never went anywhere without a pen. But he didn't write a poem. He wrote to his wife and his daughter to say he loved them. He wrote advice to business partners. He wrote instructions on where to donate money in his memory. And he wrote an account of what he believed was his last trek in a lifetime filled with hikes.

On Thursday, his wife, Nicole Kaplan, gripped the worn hat fiercely as she recounted her 64-year-old husband's ordeal and his rescue after six days in the wilderness.

"It's really very miraculous," she said, composed but still tense. "I didn't think that he'd be around."

Rosenthal was alert and able to talk and walk when he arrived at Hi-Desert Medical Center, but was dehydrated and given fluids. He is in fair condition in the intensive care unit and will remain at the hospital for several days as his condition is monitored.

Kaplan said her husband was a little confused, weak and shaky. "It looks like he lost a lot of weight," she said. Rosenthal, who is 5 feet 5 inches, weighed about 155 pounds.

But hospital officials who visited him and the emergency medical physician who treated him marveled at his condition.

"He's remarkably fit and retains a sense of humor," said Lionel Chadwick, the hospital's chief executive.

Rosenthal set out Friday from Black Rock campground on a day hike. He had driven to Desert Hot Springs the day before to celebrate his role in the successful sale of Clifton's Brookdale cafeteria, a downtown Los Angeles landmark dating to the Great Depression that is known for its kitschy forest decor.

He told his wife and rescuers that he lost the trail and made a wrong turn. He ended up in East Wide Canyon, which descends to the park's southern border. He was found Thursday morning, about seven or eight miles from where he left the trail, in a ravine near the canyon. He was spotted by a helicopter from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office when he waved a shiny, Mylar-like material.

Looking at a map that showed Rosenthal's odyssey, Kaplan, his wife of 21 years, sighed, "That's where he was found. Oh, my gosh." She said she was hopeful for several days, noting that Rosenthal hikes every weekend and some weekdays.

"It's not like he is this big, robust person, but he's in good shape," she said. But she began to lose hope when the rescuers lost his trail in the canyon. "It was like a rollercoaster," she said.

For someone on a day hike, Rosenthal was very well-equipped. Joe Zarki, a park ranger, noted that he had three or four liters of water, snack food, a space blanket, a whistle and flares.

He hiked for about a day and a half, descending almost 2,000 feet down the canyon, and then he ran out of food and water.

"At that point, he realized he was in some difficulty," Zarki said. "Once he found his spot, he thought he was better off staying there and that's what you're supposed to do."

Rosenthal whistled, but no one heard. He tried to light flares, but they did not work. Finally, he began to write his last will and testament.

Rosenthal was not reported missing until late Saturday, when the hotel where he was staying noted that he had not returned. A camper who had spoken to Rosenthal before he went hiking noticed that his car was still at the campground Sunday and also called authorities. The Park Service mounted a massive search with up to 60 rescuers a day, helicopters, Civil Air Patrol planes, searchers on horseback and dogs.

For the first several days, they focused on the trails in the area near the campground, which is just south of Joshua Tree. But on Tuesday they spotted his tracks leading into East Wide Canyon. "That actually was a very big break for us," Zarki said.

They followed the tracks for miles along the sandy canyon bottom. Zarki said searchers were heartened by his stride, which was "very purposeful." But then they lost the tracks in a hard-packed area of the canyon. It was not far from where Rosenthal had turned up the side ravine. Searchers were in the area when the helicopter sighted him Thursday.

Park rangers said Rosenthal was probably helped by high cloud cover this week, which spared the desert from the heat wave that baked the coast. Highs in the area ranged from 97 to 99 degrees most days.

"He wasn't facing the triple-digit temperatures down there," Zarki said. Kaplan said that Rosenthal, who is Jewish, relied on his experience with prayer, meditation and fasting.

"Everybody that we knew was praying for him," she said.

Kaplan, who calmly gave numerous interviews to television reporters at the hospital, would not share all the details of what Rosenthal wrote.

"It's fairly personal," she said. "He basically wrote down everything he wanted us to know on that hat."

He wrote his last entry in his journal Wednesday. It said: "Still here."

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert Lopez contributed to this article.

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