Rescue Comes Just in Time for Hiker Lost in Hawaiian Forest

If a survival story goes on long enough, it’s pretty much inevitable. At some point the survivor is going to assume the end is near.

That’s the way it was for 35-year-old yoga teacher and physical therapist Amanda Eller. Earlier this year she took what she assumed would be a three-mile hike in a Hawaiian forest.

She woke from a brief nap along the Kahakapao Trail in Maui’s Makawao Forest Reserve. But feeling disoriented, Amanda wasn’t able to determine which direction would take her back to her car and phone.

The woods were so thick along a route she had never taken before. Everything looked the same. More than two weeks later, Amanda figured she wasn’t going to make it out alive.

‘I chose life’

“There were times of total fear and loss, and wanting to give up,” she said. “It came down to life and death, and I had to choose. I chose life.

“I wasn’t going to take the easy way out. Even though that meant more suffering in me for myself.”

After wandering for two weeks in the dense forest, Amanda had a broken left tibia. And a bum knee. And sunburn so bad it was infected. Her shoes had been washed away in a flash flood as she attempted to dry them out.

She couldn’t go forward any longer due to the rough terrain. And she was determined not to go back the way she’d recently come.

Deliverance at last

Amanda had kept up what little strength she still had by eating the berries she was able to find. As well as guava.

She was only drinking water that looked clear, for fear of getting sicker than she already felt. She lost 15 pounds.

Occasionally she heard the helicopters carrying people looking for her. But she was unable to attract their attention by waving and yelling.

Finally, it happened. She was able to step into a ravine and be seen as a helicopter hovered nearby. Rescuers had to cut a path to Amanda. But they reached her and transported her to the Maui Memorial Medical Center, where she was treated.

Power of prayer and love

Amanda’s mother, Julia, said that without her phone, her daughter was in a difficult place to navigate.

“Everything looks the same,” Julia said. “It would be very easy to get misguided.” But she said she believed all along that her daughter was still alive.

“She’s a trooper, man,” Julia said. “She’s a real warrior. And I had no doubt that if anybody could make it through it, it was her.”

Amanda added, “Seeing the power of prayer and the power of love when everybody combines their efforts is incredible. It could move mountains.”

Preparedness is the key

Police had suspended their search for Amanda after six days. But friends and relatives launched a GoFundMe campaign, raising money to pay for the helicopter rescue trips.

Later, Amanda apologized to those she put at risk with her situation.

“It was never my intention through any of this to put anybody in harm’s way, to create a rescue effort out of my being lost in the woods,” she said.

She added that if there is a silver lining to her experience, it’s that it brought attention to the need for “preparation.”

Berries are nature’s fuel

And, of course, that’s true for us as well. Nobody knows when they might be in a situation where they could get lost or stranded.

That’s why it’s important to know what berries you can (and can’t) eat in the wild.

Foraging, aka harvesting food in the wild, was once a part of normal life; a means for survival. People once knew which plants were poisonous and which were edible, or otherwise useful.

And since its winter, let’s focus on some of the berries you can forage this time of year:

You might have to scoop under snow to discover them, but acorns and black walnuts can be found on the ground near nut-bearing trees. You’re going to want to soak them with several changes of water for three days or so. That will get rid of the tannins. Then you can either roast them and eat as is, or boil and dry them before grinding into flour.

You can find cattail in swamp water, which will be cold, so have a good pair of waterproof boots on. They can grow from three to nine feet tall. The white, starchy stuff inside the long, brown rootstocks can be used to thicken stews and soups. The small sprouts at the base can be boiled or steamed as you would a vegetable.

Not every plum or crabapple will have been picked or have fallen from its tree by wintertime. Some will still be hanging from their trees. You can either mash them into a jelly or strain their juices and mix them with water and sugar before boiling the concoction into a beverage.

Wild greens will occasionally show up in the snow, and with a little work they’ll taste just like summer greens. Rinse and then boil with salt a variety of greens such as wild onions, chickweed, wild garlic, and dandelion roots and crowns. You can also find mushrooms on rotting deadfalls.

Foraging berries is completely doable and safe. It’s just a matter of eating what’s familiar and not sampling what isn’t. That said, it’s always a good idea to consult with a guidebook or professional when getting started. Anything less than a 100 percent identification is not good enough.

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