Kurt Hildebrand

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December 7, 2012
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Woman to describe ordeal on national TV

A Gardnerville woman who spent five nights alone in Hope Valley during a storm after her boyfriend died in an attempt to seek help is scheduled to appear on the Today Show on Monday.

Paula Lane, 46, was rescued after she and Roderick Clifton, 44, became stuck in the mud at Burnside Lake on Nov. 29. Clifton died while trying to walk for help on Nov. 30, and Lane was left alone to survive on tomatoes and snowmelt until she was found on Wednesday by her brother.

Lane is recovering at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center from mild frostbite she received when she tried to walk out on Monday. She spent two nights in the wilderness, seeking shelter in a hollowed out tree until her brother, Gary, took a frontloader past a locked gate on Burnside Lake Road and found her on Wednesday.

Lane's story is international news, appearing on Good Morning America on Friday, with a story appearing on the front page of the London Daily Mail's web site.

The couple left Citrus Heights, Calif., at 2:45 p.m. Nov. 29, in a 1989 Jeep Cherokee they'd just purchased. The 96-mile trip between Citrus Heights and Pickett's Junction in Hope Valley takes about two hours. With the sun setting, Clifton decided to try out the Jeep's four-wheel drive capacity on seven-mile long Burnside Lake Road directly across from where Highway 89 intersects with 88, according to Alpine County Undersheriff Rob Levy.

That day was a break between storms rolling into the central Sierra and was windy. Because of the wet weather on the previous day, the U.S. Forest Service closed dirt roads.

Markleeville reported receiving .41 inches of rain that day, but low temperatures in the Sierra were above freezing, so the roads were muddy.

Levy said the gate was locked and Clifton drove around it. The couple made it all the way to Burnside Lake, but got stuck.

"It was stuck in the mud and it had snowed around the vehicle," he said. "The decision to drive around a locked gate was a bad one. I know people get upset when they close these roads when it gets wet, but there's a reason for it."

The couple spent the first night in the Jeep while an even larger storm was looming over the Sierra. By the morning of Nov. 30, the wintry weather had arrived and the snow levels were dropping. It was raining at 5,500 feet elevation in Markleeville.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service maintains a snow sensor at Burnside Lake that showed there were only 6 inches of snow at midnight Nov. 28. Nine more inches of snow fell by midnight Nov. 29 as the couple was huddled in the Jeep. That morning, Lane told authorities Clifton got out of the Jeep to walk back to Highway 89. He faced a seven-mile trek through more than a foot of wet, newly fallen snow. Days later, when Lane attempted to follow Clifton down to the road, she found his body about a mile from where they were stuck, she told authorities.

On Dec. 1, snow telemetry revealed that 30 more inches of snow fell at Burnside Lake. By Monday, when Lane decided to try to make it out on her own, the snow was 3-feet deep.

This was the second major storm in Alpine County this season to result in a death.

Levy encouraged people who find themselves in the high country to be prepared should they become stranded.

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The Record Courier Updated Dec 7, 2012 09:18PM Published Dec 7, 2012 09:18PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.