Oct 2016 - Search and Rescue in the Andes
Updated: Jan 23, 2018
When you visit the reserve, it is very important that you follow instructions. One of the rules is that when you explore the different trails, you have to have a local guide. Even if you have visited before, this rule must be followed, here is why.
In October of 2016, a group of 4 men visiting from the town of Jardin, arrived unannounced to the reserve. They had visited several times before and decided they would go to the trail, leading to the Antioquia-Risaralda boundary, known as "El Alto". Since this trail has some steep climbs, one of the men decided to look for a branch to cut, and use it as a walking stick. He crossed the San Juan Antioquia river and walked on the opposite side thinking he would eventually reach the trail.
Without knowing, he took the wrong trail. Even though he had visited multiple times and the trails are very different, he continued climbing through the forest, known as "El Plan de Maria Jesus". Stories told about this trail by local people, claim that strange things happen there, such as sounds and voices that have no explanation. People are afraid of camping in this place because they say that ghosts are present. There are more stories about this forest, but we’ll leave that for another day.
When the group walking to "El Alto" realized one of them was missing, they turned back to look for their friend and couldn’t find him. They called the police and fire rescue from Jardin, and about 30 people arrived to start a search and rescue operation. After two days of looking for the lost man, a well-known hotel owner of the town in Jardin, people started thinking he had been kidnapped because this place had also had a history of guerrilla presence in the past.
In the last attempt to find him, Uriel Rendon and two other men from La Mesenia village, Evelio Rendon and Jorge Ivan Uribe decided to look for his tracks. Soon after they left the main reserve station, Uriel found where the man had crossed the river and followed the trail he took. They started to find candy wraps, some broken small branches and also shoe prints. They followed these tracks up to 2,900 m, where a steep descent began. They continued to see signs where the man had jumped or rolled downhill, through very dangerous places. They thought they would find a dead body because this man had gone through places that were extremely dangerous.
After 8 hours of very intense search, they finally found the man, lying on the ground shivering. He was pretty lucky to be alive. When the man saw them, he started saying words that made no sense, “I was just resting here to go back... but everything is fine,” they asked him to follow them, but he refused. They finally convinced him that he was lost, and he needed to be rescued, it was obvious he was suffering from dehydration, and his body and brain sooner than later were going to fail him. It was impossible to return the way they had hiked, it was too steep, so they had to continue down a small stream that Uriel had once explored when he was a young kid.
When Uriel and the others returned with the lost men to the station, no one could believe they had found them. This was a close call and it had a happy ending, fortunately. So remember to never feel so confident on unknown territory. He definitely learned a lesson.