Mount Shasta hikers make it home safely 

A personal trainer from Millbrae and a North Carolina woman escaped death — and possibly the world’s most exhilarating first date — by using a GPS device to follow lights in the distance while trapped for two days atop Mount Shasta.

Millbrae’s Salvador "Sal" Frias and North Carolina teacher Patricia Giamoni, both 37, had been missing since Saturday on the 14,000-foot mountain in Siskiyou County near the Oregon border. The hikers, who were on their first date, walked safely into a loading dock area in the city of Weed 10 miles north from the mountain at 11:30 p.m. Monday.

The pair battled freezing temperatures, 100 mph winds and lightning and scaled down a portion of the icy mountain face known as "no man’s land" to survive, Frias said. The weather forced them to climb down a different path than the one they used to ascend.

Once they reached the ground, they faced 90 degree heat with no water while traveling nonstop for five miles. During the day, they followed faint lights in the distance using a GPS device Frias had with him. They eventually came across railroad tracks, which led them to Weed.

"We couldn’t stand one more night out there, we had to make a mad rush for the train tracks," Frias said. "I’ve never been that dehydrated and that thirsty. I started not thinking straight."

The bond they quickly built by surviving the ordeal together was unlike anything they had ever experienced, Frias said.

"It just goes to show how much we care about each other," said Frias, who asked Giamoni to visit after the old friends sparked romance by reuniting through Facebook. "It was an A-plus first date. … There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her."

To survive, they rationed water and a loaf of bread, interlocked arms to avoid flying away and dug holes and huddled between rocks to stay warm. To scale the worst parts of the slope, the pair had to move laterally — like Spider-Man, Frias said — using ice picks and sticking their toes into the rock. The pair packed just one windbreaker jacket, which Frias gave to Giamoni.

"There were many life-and-death situations," Frias’ sister, Luz Daniel, said. "It’s really a miracle that they’re alive."

"He’s like a family member here," said John Walker, who owns Excel Fitness in San Mateo where Frias has worked for six years. "Sal’s resourceful. When he puts his mind to something, he definitely accomplishes it. … We figured if anyone could make it, it would be Sal."

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

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