During her 48 hours alone somewhere in the Sierra National Forest, Jolly Bose faced temperatures so low her breath crystalized as soon as it left her mouth. The battery in her headlamp weakened against the cold. And what little water she had left since she got lost — about 10 ounces — froze.
One fleece sweater, a base layer, a turquoise down jacket and another red shell jacket on top were not enough to keep her warm during nightfall. Bose had to curl up in an upright fetal position, with hands under her armpit, to preserve what little warmth she had.
Yet, even in frigid conditions, she never lost her composure.
"The main thing the search and rescue team had said worked for me was that I was calm and I was not panicking," Bose told the Weekly on Friday from her Palo Alto home in good and healthy spirits.
Oct. 17, a Sunday, was supposed to be a day-hike up Mount Givens with Bose's two friends Ken Toyama and Dmitry Medvedev.
Northeast of Huntington Lake in Fresno County, Mount Givens sits at an elevation of about 10,643 feet, which is just about 2 miles above sea level. For the inexperienced, an elevation that high can make one subject to headaches, nausea and other symptoms of altitude sickness.
But for the three, this was just one of many summits they were ascending as seasoned peakbaggers — hikers who have a personal list of mountains they want to climb and conquer. Since 2017, Bose, a 43-year-old yoga instructor, fitness trainer and a K-8 substitute teacher in East Palo Alto, has reached many peaks. The tallest she "bagged" was Mount Whitney which is about 14,500 feet high — a "14er" as her group of hiking enthusiasts call it.
"During COVID I think I (hiked) at least 20, 30 times," the Barron Park neighborhood resident said.
Still, even with all of her and her friends' experience, Bose now recalls several missteps they made before and during their ascent.
As usual, Bose downloaded a map of Mount Givens on her phone anticipating that she would lose service. In addition to her typical gear, which includes a Camelbak backpack and trekking poles, among other essentials, Bose always packs a portable battery for her phone.
But on that day, following a late Saturday night of celebrating for a traditional Hindu festival, a less alert Bose realized she had left the battery at home. She decided not to turn back, as the group was already going to reach their destination later than planned around 1 p.m. Mistake one, she said.
The next error came when the hikers deviated from the original plan.
According to the county sheriff's search and rescue website, one of the first "things to consider when recreating in the mountains" is to establish an itinerary and never stray away from it. (A member of the search and rescue team from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office was not available for an interview at the time of publication.)
As they finished Mount Givens before sunset, the group, in their ambitiousness, decided to climb Mount Ian Campbell on the same day — another summit that Bose and advanced peakbaggers consider an "insignificant peak." No big deal, the group thought.
For Bose, her second mistake was when she did not turn back with Medvedev, who felt winded and returned to the trailhead.
"I became a little over-ambitious," she said.
Instead of turning around, Bose decided to follow Toyama, who wanted to finish the second climb and was already a half-mile ahead.
As she continued towards Mount Ian Campbell, Bose realized she could no longer see her friend. Perhaps, she was going up the wrong path, she thought to herself. The mountain has no clearly marked trails and "you can go in all directions," Bose said.
At one point, Bose stopped to blow her whistle and called out to Toyama, hoping she would hear his voice and get a better sense of direction. No response. She decided to follow a cross-country trail, thinking it might lead back to the off-highway-vehicle trail her group took near Mount Givens. But the path felt strangely longer than usual, and soon she came across a lake and creeks she didn't recognize.
Without cellphone service, the hiker couldn't check her location or download a map of Mount Ian Campbell. Her phone ran out of battery trying to find data. The sun had already set. It was cold and windy. Bose was lost.
"If you read about a hiker missing or how a hiker died, they're all solo hikers or they would split from their group," Bose said. "I'm completely aware of it."
Temperatures continued to dip around nightfall. According to the sheriff's office, they were well below freezing and in the teens. But Bose, who also endured 5 inches of new snow, felt it was colder. When she finally found an off-road-vehicle trail, Bose depended on a headlamp to make the tire tracks on the road visible in the pitch-black of night. However, the light dimmed because the weather was affecting the battery's performance.
"I had to take it from my head and hold it in my hands to see the tire marks," she said.
Bose estimates that she walked about 6 miles in the wrong direction that night. She could turn around, Bose thought, but in the dark and with a dying headlamp, her instincts told her that it was not the time to make another assumption and that she should find shelter. She was also certain that by now her friends should have alerted a search and rescue team.
"I decided I need to find a place where I can stay safe, warm and alive," Bose said. "So my goal changed from reaching the trailhead to how to stay safe in the wilderness."
Soon, she was near Ershim Lake and spotted a blue structure. It was a permanent bathroom for off-roading drivers. Bose hung her red jacket outside, by the door, in case someone passed by, and took shelter inside on the ground for warmth.
"Even though I had three layers, still it was cold," she said. "I crossed a creek, so my hands and my feet were all wet … so I kept my hands under my armpit, cross-armed, so that I stay warm. … When I took my shoes off, my socks were wet but still even the wet socks were helpful to keep my feet warmer."
Taking from her yoga and meditation exercises, Bose took deep breaths to reduce shivering and stay calm. She was exhausted for the night, but not panicked.
"I was very calm because I know my friend Dmitry and I know about search and rescue — they're awesome," she said. "My second biggest comfort and confidence came from the shelter. … I passed the coldest night and was able to stay warm and not become hypothermic, so that gave me a lot of confidence."
Around 4 a.m., Bose heard a plane overhead. She attempted to call out to the plane and follow it but realized that she didn't want to stray too far away from her shelter.
By sunrise, Bose walked a mile and a half to leave fresh footmarks that led to the bathroom. If the plane couldn't catch her, Bose thought, then perhaps someone driving by would. She also had a couple of cards in her fanny pack from a previous activity with her students at East Palo Alto Charter School. Bose used one to write "Jolly was here" and "Look for the blue structure" and to stick it in the branch of a tree.
Bose spent the rest of Monday morning in and out of the bathroom as she heard multiple planes fly right over her head. By around noon, she realized that the trees were too dense and the search and rescue team could never find her in her current position.
"So then I thought, 'OK, let me figure out how I can find open space,'" she said.
Bose found another bathroom near an exposed area about the size of a tennis court. For food, the hiker luckily had one frozen tangerine in her backpack from a previous trip. She was unaware of it until she sat on her backpack and smelled the faint scent of citrus.
The pain of starvation didn't strike Bose hard during her two days lost. Previously, she had done a "food meditation," in which she fasted for a week. Her main source of discomfort was the cold.
"Because I was walking, it was OK," she said. "But if I did not walk, I cannot stand for five minutes."
Bose also did lunges and squats to generate body heat.
Throughout the day, planes and helicopters circled overhead, giving Bose even more confidence that she would be saved.
On the second night, a full moon appeared. Even in the midst of an extremely unfortunate predicament, Bose took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the night sky, which she said had some shooting stars.
"I wish I had a camera or something to take pictures," she said.
Bose took up peakbagging four years ago shortly after she lost custody of her daughter, Diya, in the process of an "adversarial" divorce. Backpacking and climbing mountains were her forms of therapy.
"I feel more victorious because if you're at the bottom of the hill, the mountain looks unreasonable and unapproachable," she said. "And then when you climb up and you're on top of the mountain and your mark is on the bottom of your feet … it feels really great."
Three things were on her mind as she waited for her rescue. The first was Diya, now 15 years old.
If she made it out alive, Bose thought, then the first thing she would do is plan a backpacking trip in Europe with Diya for when she turns 18.
Second, Bose hoped that her friends and family were not panicking too much, thinking she was either severely injured or, worse, dead. And the third thought?
"I was hoping nobody in the media would know that this happened to me," Bose laughed.
By Tuesday, the mother felt more motivated to be rescued. Rather than going in and out of the bathroom, she was determined to stay put in the exposed area. Using a broom she found in the restroom, Bose created a makeshift flag out of her red jacket. It had a few reflective elements, such as in the logo, that may catch the light and get the attention of the pilots. And to help her yell louder, she took a few sips of her water.
"I had no fear at all," she said. "I was feeling some spirit take over me."
Around 2:30 p.m., a helicopter spotted Bose waving her red flag. When a rescuer dropped down to her location, Bose finally bursted into tears.
"Oh my god, my perseverance and determination paid off; finally they spotted me," she thought at the time.
She was airlifted to what looked like a temporary station set up nearby for the rescue mission. There, Bose was greeted by her tearful fiance and younger brother.
"My brother is ex-army so he's tough … he didn't cry," she laughed.
Bose had not yet seen her two hiking friends at the time of her interview with the Weekly, but corresponded over email and plans to see them Sunday. She imagined that they felt very guilty for what happened.
Getting lost also hasn't discouraged Bose from peakbagging, though next time she'll be taking with her a two-way satellite communication device, an emergency blanket and more food, she said.
In addition, as a believer in paying acts of kindness forward, Bose said she wants to volunteer for the search and rescue team. She'll also be taking wilderness training classes with the hopes of educating others on safety in the wild.
In a press release, the sheriff's office wrote that Bose strayed about 4 and a half miles from the point where she was separated from her group. Going back to her phone, Bose saw that she was about 20 miles away from the original trailhead.
Bose received a text from Diya on the day of the rescue saying how she thought her mom was the strongest woman she ever met. It's also a bit gratifying for Bose to show her ex-husband that the woman who once feared heights and avoided San Francisco because of its hilly landscape can now climb mountains, get lost in them and survive.
"Humans — we're really resilient," she said. "If you have the faith and confidence and trust that you'll make it, you'll make it. If you think that you'll break, then you'll break."