Move over, Sly Stallone, and take your aging action-hero friends with you. Gene Penaflor, 72 years of age, is now the toughest old guy in America. Penaflor, a San Francisco native, survived dangerous weather conditions for 18 days after a disorienting injury and several days of thick fog kept him stranded in a mountainous section of northern California’s Mendocino National Forest.
According to the Ukiah Daily Journal, Penaflor went missing on Sept. 24 during a hunting trip with a friend. The two hunters separated, planning to meet up for lunch and to resume their hunt. But Penaflor didn’t make it to the rendezvous. He had fallen and been knocked unconsciousness much farther from basecamp than he normally traveled. Penaflor woke later that afternoon only to find a cut on his chin and a blanket of fog around him. Unsure which way to go, he was able to kindle a fire and build a shelter from leaves near a water source. It was there that he spent his first night.
But the fog didn’t lift for several days. Despite his best efforts to create a smoke signal, search parties, scent-tracking dogs, equipment from 15 neighboring agencies, and even a search-and-rescue helicopter could not find him. Fearing the worst and fighting bad weather at the 7,000-foot elevation, the authorities called off the search on September 28.
Over the next two weeks, Penaflor subsisted on squirrels, reptiles, berries, and algae. “He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he’d last as long as he could,” said Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office detective Andrew Porter.
Penaflor continued to do everything in his power to survive, conserving energy in every action. He hunted and cooked wild game. He kept embers alive during the day to be rekindled at night. He conserved his ammunition and stayed hydrated. Then, last Saturday, he spotted “an army of hunters” and signaled them with smoke from his fire. These startled hunters made a stretcher for Penaflor from tree limbs and clothing, and carried him to back to their vehicles.
Detective Porter said that Penaflor was “laughing and joking around” and his mood was “very upbeat.”
This man’s wilderness smarts, his attitude, and his unshakeable mental toughness should be a shining example to all outdoor enthusiasts. Penaflor clearly illustrates that despite your age, or the conditions, doing the right things will pay off in a survival situation.
Penaflor was treated at a local medical center, and he is now doing well and reunited with his family.