CARSON CITY, Nev. — A Nevada woman survived on snow and tomatoes for nearly a week and found shelter in a hollowed-out tree after she became stranded in a winter storm and her boyfriend died trying to find help, a family member said.
Paula Lane of Gardnerville was rescued Wednesday along a dirt road in the Sierra Nevada after her brother, suspecting the couple might have returned to Burnside Lake where they had camped before, took a highway front loader and went looking for her, the Nevada Appeal reported.
Lane, 46, was recovering from frostbite at a Carson City hospital after spending six nights in the frigid Hope Valley in California's Alpine County.
Lane and Roderick Paul Clifton, 44, were reported missing after they left Citrus Heights, Calif., on the afternoon of Nov. 29. Family members reported them missing late that night.
Alpine County Undersheriff Robert Levy said Clifton had recently purchased the 1989 Jeep Cherokee and wanted to try out its four-wheel-drive when he drove around a locked gate blocking access to a road.
After their Jeep got stuck in mud, Clifton tried to hike out to Highway 88, about six miles away, authorities said. His body was recovered along the dirt road on U.S. Forest Service land that was barricaded to traffic because of poor conditions and stormy weather.
Levy said Gary Lane had commandeered a Caltrans front loader parked in a sand shed then drove it several miles along the road until he found his distressed sister.
He loaded her into the bucket of the loader and returned to a small resort on Highway 88.
After getting stuck, Levy said Clifton spent the first night in their vehicle. The next morning, with a major storm rolling into the Sierra, Clifton tried to hike out alone to find help.
"Lane attempted to convince Clifton to stay with the vehicle," Levy said.
Three days later, Lane "attempted to walk and crawl out," the sheriff said.
She later told responders she had found Clifton's body while making her way down the road. Searchers from El Dorado and Alpine counties on snowmobiles found the body about a mile north of Burnside Lake.
Linda Hathaway said her sister is doing well.
"The family has been through a lot. My nephews and my Mom and I are very happy she made it. It's been a rough haul waiting all those days."
The mother of 11-year-old twin boys, Lane is eager to get home.
"All I can tell you is she wants to get better so she can get home to her babies," Hathaway said. "It is hard to sit there as a family waiting. You don't know, your mind plays (through) so many things."
Hathaway said her brother just had a feeling about where he could find the couple.
"We couldn't stop him, we just let him do what he had to do," she said. "They have a special bond, they really do."
A friend was with Gary Lane when they found his sister. At one point, knowing she was near hypothermia, they cut off her clothes to get her warm.
"Last night, I gave her the biggest kiss I could without hurting her," Hathaway said. "My sister may be little, but she's mighty. She is a survivor and she loves life. God was looking over her."
Dr. Vijay Maiya said Lane was in stable condition and recovering from malnourishment and first-degree frostbite on her toes.
"Once she found out her loved one wasn't coming back she knew she couldn't stay in the truck and attempted to then go and find help on her own," the doctor said.
She ate and drank snow to stay hydrated. Before the couple left California, they stopped at family members' homes and got tomatoes, which helped to sustain her during the ordeal.
"She realized after she left (the Jeep) that she couldn't make it, so she had a blanket and tomatoes and (stayed) in a hollowed tree until rescued," he said. "She was very lucky."
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