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Lost Hiker Survived for 10 Days in Santa Cruz Mountains: ‘It Was an Awesome Experience’

The resident of Boulder Creek, Calif., set out on a familiar trail before his work shift — 10 days and a massive search effort later, the hiker was rescued when someone heard his cries for help.
(Photo/SLV Steve)
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Lukas McClish had been lost, wandering the Santa Cruz Mountains of California for 10 days before he was rescued on June 20. When the 34-year-old hiker finally came out of the woods, he was shirtless, scruffy, and on the verge of malnutrition. He’d been surviving on berries and creek water, sleeping on wet beds of leaves, and screaming for help as he searched for a way out.

McClish had set out on June 11, expecting the hike to take just 3 hours. He told local news station KSBW that he’d been on his way to work. He was familiar with the area and had hiked the trail before, so he didn’t tell anyone where he was headed. When he set out, he had nothing more than his boots, pants, a folding multitool, and a flashlight.

On June 16, when he didn’t show up for a Father’s Day dinner, his parents reported him missing, and the search officially began. By then, McClish said he had been craving a burrito bowl for 5 days.

He said, “I started to kind of realize that I might be in over my head.”

Lost in the Mountains: Surviving Off Berries, Boot Water

The area where McClish was lost is at the north end of the San Lorenzo Valley. The landscape is dominated by thick pine forests, winding networks of human and game trails, canyons, creeks, and waterfalls. In recent years, it’s been ravaged by several wildfires. ABC7 Los Angeles reported that McClish said landmarks he knew of had been wiped out, making it hard for him to navigate.

Eventually, he deviated significantly from his path and became lost. He continued wandering as the days passed, prioritizing water and food.

“So I kind of just hiked each day. I go up a canyon, down a canyon to the next waterfall, sit down by the waterfall, and drink water out of my boot,” McClish said. He drank about a gallon of water a day and ate wild berries wherever he could find them.

(Photo/SLV Steve)

At one point, McClish told reporters that a mountain lion had stalked him for a while. But he said that the lion made no moves to harm him, and he never felt threatened by it.

“It was cool,” he told KSBW. “It kept its distance. I think it was just somebody watching over me.”

McClish’s parents said they hiked a lot looking for their son. Every night after they’d declared him missing, Diane McClish said she’d go to sleep worrying for her son.

“Some nights, I just had to trust God that he was going to be OK,” she told KSBW. “And that was hard to do some nights when we would go to bed at night. Because I would worry about where he was, where he was sleeping and how cold he was, and where he was if he was alive.”

Hiker Rescued After 10 Days: A ‘Humbling’ Experience

On Thursday, June 20, witnesses reported someone screaming for help. First responders from Boulder Creek Fire Department put drones up to search the area. They spotted McClish, and its K-9 unit tracked him down, leading rescuers straight to the stranded hiker. His voice was hoarse, and he was sore. But he came out of the mountains uninjured.

(Photo/SLV Steve)

“It was just really humbling and I don’t know, it was an awesome experience,” McClish told ABC7.

Local law enforcement officers, Boulder Creek Volunteer Fire Department, the sheriff’s office, state parks, and CAL FIRE all contributed to the search efforts. The McClish family expressed gratitude to all of them, and Lukas’ parents are happy to have their son home.

Although, all three of them said they’d had their fill of hiking for the year.

“We’ve all hiked a lot,” his mom told ABC7.

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