On Sept. 28, Juan Velasquez was reminded that the lessons you teach others can sometimes save your own life down the road. Around 7 a.m. that Thursday, the 75-year-old hunter was rescued from the Sequoia National Forest after being lost on his own for more than four days. His rescuers were two close friends who’d learned how to hunt from Velasquez when they were younger.
“I dreamt Ignacio and Manuel were the ones who could get me out,” Velasquez told Fox 26 News. “I have known them for years. We’ve gone hunting together. They’re stubborn about hiking.”
Fox 26 reports that Velasquez first went missing on Sept. 24. He strayed from the group when he killed a bear in the national forest and tried to recover it. He then got lost and realized he was not fully prepared to be in the woods alone.
“I thought it was going to be a small hike,” he explained. “When I got in, I didn’t take my knife, matches, lamp. I had no phone, no radio, no nothing. Just my jacket and what I was wearing.”
The other members of his group notified the authorities that evening, and search-and-rescue teams were dispatched to the area. They looked for Velasquez over the next two days but were unsuccessful. By Wednesday, wildlife photographer Ignacio Saldana Jr. decided to join in the search efforts and called his friend Manuel. Both men were close family friends of Velasquez, and they were worried about the old man who’d taught them hunting and survival skills when they were boys.
On Wednesday evening, Saldana spotted a plume of smoke in the northwest part of Sequoia National Forest, according to Fox 26. He and Manuel headed that direction on Thursday morning. After hiking for more than 15 hours and calling Velasquez’ name, they found him near California Hot Springs about 1,500 feet above Rube Creek.
“I couldn’t see them,” Velasquez said. “But I answered ‘I’m over here! I’m over here!’ and when I saw them walking along the stream, I felt a beautiful relief.”
In a Facebook post on Oct. 2, Saldana shared a picture from their “victory hike” and described how intense the experience was. He also shared a list of the gear he brought along, which included first aid supplies along with a .44 Magnum handgun, a Marlin 45-70 rifle, and “a determined mindset.”
“I hiked over 15 hours in 24 hours in extreme technical terrain until Juan was found,” Saldana writes. “I was speed hiking into bear nesting areas and wolf dens. Every time I turned the corner of a rocky area, I felt like I was about to throw it down with a large predator. There were foot tracks and feces all over the ground.”
In a follow-up comment, Saldana confirmed that Velasquez had also heard wolves howling during the nights he spent alone.
“It was the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” Saldana told reporters after the rescue. “I wasn’t losing hope on finding him, I was going to find him dead or alive regardless. But hearing his voice just … I don’t normally cry, but that day I was crying.”