Shirtless hiker missing for 10 days in Santa Cruz Mountains survived on berries and creek water

Blackberries growing by a creek
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A hiker who’d been missing for 10 days in the Californian wilderness has been rescued, after surviving for 10 days on berries and creek water.

Lukas McClish thought he’d only be gone for a three hours or so when he started his hike on June 11 in Boulder Creek, about 14 miles north of Santa Cruz. He didn’t even bother putting on a shirt, was equipped only with some scissors and a flashlight, and didn’t tell anyone where he was going. 

“I left with a pair of pants and my hiking shoes and a hat,” McClish told KGO-TV. “I had a flashlight and a pair of folding scissors – like a Leatherman tool – and that was about it.”

When he didn't show up for Father's Day dinner, his family became worried and he was declared missing on Sunday, June 16.

According to McClish, he became lost because recent forest fire damage in the area had destroyed any landmarks he recognized.

He spent the next few days going up and down canyons, drinking water – collected using his boots – from waterfalls and creeks, and foraging for berries, while fantasizing about making it home and tucking into burritos and taco bowls.

He says that at one point he sensed a mountain lion following him, but it didn’t show any signs of attacking him. By the fifth day, he admits he thought, “I might be in over my head,” but never let panic set in: “I felt comfortable the whole time I was out there – I wasn’t worried… I think it was just somebody watching over me.”

Matters worsened on day eight when he came down with hypothermia and slipped on a rock. He decided to shout: “Help, help, I'm over here!” for around 48 hours.

On Friday, June 21, the sheriff’s office said that they received a report from “witnesses” who  heard someone “yelling for help” in the Foreman Creek area off of Big Basin Highway, about five miles north of Boulder Creek, about 27 miles southwest of San Jose, Calif. 

A drone was sent up and McClish was quickly found with the help of a sniffer dog. he was reunited with his family who were waiting at the forest’s edge, and amazingly he only needed one night in hospital before being allowed to return home.

Boulder Creek Fire Protection District Chief Mark Bingham told the Santa Cruz Sentinel: “He did have a minor injury… but, for the most part, he was disoriented and lost and surviving off of the land, which is pretty impressive to say what a tough individual he was or is.”