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Father, son lost in the woods never panicked

Father, son lostin the woods never panicked

Dwayne Johnson is an enthusiastic hiker who has conquered Mount McLoughlin four times, and his 8-year-old son, Nathaniel, is no slouch either. The duo often team up to tackle local trails and hikes.

So the Medford music teacher and Jefferson Elementary third-grader were shocked to realize Saturday afternoon that they had lost their way following an ascent to the mountaintop.

But lost they were. The two had somehow wandered off the marked path and couldn't locate the Pacific Crest Trail.

We had plenty of food and water. We had good intentions, Johnson said on Sunday. We just didn't have enough daylight.

— Father and son headed east, knowing eventually they would run into the trail or a road. The pair were clad in T-shirts and shorts, and they had no matches, flashlights or a compass.

As the terrain worsened and Nathaniel began to tire, Johnson decided it was best to stay put and call for help on his cell phone.

At first, I thought he was kidding, said wife Tammy Johnson, who contacted the Jackson County Sheriff's Department to report the situation at 6:30 p.m. He never gets lost!

A team of 18 search and rescue volunteers quickly assembled and began the search.

Tammy Johnson spoke with Nathaniel once more to make sure he was OK.

I asked, 'Are you afraid, are you panicked?' she said. He said, 'No, this is a man's trip. This is what men do.' He was having a great time.

Nathaniel said the night air grew chilly, so he and his dad decided to build a fort. The temporary shelter was constructed out of lava rocks and forest debris.

The stars were so nice. We were in a river of rocks, said Nathaniel. Mars was real pretty.

The Johnsons' two daughters, Sabrina and Kathleen, said they were confident in their dad's abilities but had concerns about their younger brother.

He only had shorts on and it was really cold, said Sabrina, 16.

He's all skin and bones, added Kathleen, 13.

As the hours ticked by, Dwayne Johnson said he could hear sirens in the distance. When the batteries in his cell phone gave out, he started whistling.

The sound really carried in the woods, he said. They followed and were able to find us.

Search and rescue volunteers located the pair around 1:30 a.m. in a lava bed south of the mountain, about one mile east of the Pacific Crest Trail.

We heard them before we saw them, said Nathaniel. They were singing kid songs.

The crew finally came into sight, singing the chorus, hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go.

It took the group more than an hour to reach the trailhead through the rough terrain. The Johnsons finally returned to their south Medford home around 4 a.m.

The rescuers were really fun, said Nathaniel, who added he may become a search and rescue volunteer when he grows up. They were cool.

These guys were great. I couldn't believe it, added Dwayne Johnson. They managed to bring humor into the situation.

The experience hasn't soured the father-son enthusiasm for hiking. Nathaniel and Johnson still plan to hike Mount Shasta next summer. However, the two say they'll hire a guide for that trip.

Johnson said he'll look into buying a global positioning system device before hiking Mount Shasta next year. Tammy Johnson, however, said there's nothing to consider.

You can guess what he's getting for Christmas, she joked.

Sheriff Mike Winters noted that search crews have had to look for several hikers this summer who lost their way descending Mount McLoughlin.

The trail is difficult for people to see as they hike down the mountain and intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail, he said.

He encouraged hikers to bring a map, compass or GPS when hiking in the country.

Nathaniel Johnson, 8, and his dad, Dwayne Johnson of Medford, are happy to be home after spending a late Saturday night lost on Mount McLoughlin. The two were found by search and rescue crews around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven