West Sacramento man survives 5 days lost in the wilderness

WEST SACRAMENTO – A West Sacramento man was rescued after being missing for five days in the wilderness.

Mike Vilhauer, 58, is now in the comfort of his own home. It's a place, at one point, he didn't think he'd see again.

"I started thinking, 'I'm going to be here and this is going to be it,'" Vilhauer recalled.

He was fishing alone last Wednesday at Lower Sunset Lake in Alpine County when he went looking for bait. He intended to go on a quick hike – 15 or 30 minutes at the most. But then he got lost from his campsite.

Vilhauer went five days without food.

"I did my own version of survivor man, the idiots version," Vilhauer said. "Drinking out of puddles, dried stream beds."

Vilhauer did not have a GPS. All he had on him was a topographical map. He climbed up and down the Mokulumne Wilderness. He said he made one mistake after another.

"One was just zigzagging up and down, looking down, instead of taking note of my surroundings," Vilhauer explained.

He tore the bottoms of his pants and his Ellen underwear from the Ellen Degeneres show.

"I'm going to keep them as mementos," Vilhauer said.

He encountered a wolverine, bears and deer.

Finally, he decided to stay put and made a big "HELP" sign out of pine needles.

"Kind of like Tom Hanks in 'Castaway,'" Vilhauer said. "But it was 8 foot."

On Friday, searchers started looking for him.

"I heard the helicopters on more than a few occasions in the distance," Vilhauer recalled. "You get emotional, 'hey they are going to see me,' and nothing."

He didn't think he'd make it out alive. He even carved final notes to his family on a piece of wood.

Finally on Sunday, the chopper returned.

"They kept on missing me, missing me," Vilhauer said. "I was saying, 'Dang it! They are right on top of me for God's sake.'"

Vilhauer later found out the chopper was communicating with the ground crews who arrived about an hour later. The rescuers arrived wearing orange.

"That was quite a sight, in orange," Vilhauer said. "It was Christmas."

Vilhauer is extremely grateful for the search and rescue crews from several counties who helped bring him home alive. He said crews told him his search was the largest one of the year.

"I'm going to go back up there and buy a lot of rounds of beers at some point," Vilhauer laughed.

Vilhauer has a sense of humor about his adventure. He said he will return to the area, but he will bring a marching band with him next time.


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