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Rene Compean's Picture Of His Soot-Streaked Legs Mobilized SoCal Hiking Community And Saved His Life

PALMDALE (CBSLA) — It was a picture of a man's soot-streaked legs, perched on rocks high above a canyon, but it piqued the interest of Southern California's rather extensive hiking community and helped save Rene Compean's life.

rene compean
(credit: CBS)

Now back home in Palmdale with just a few scratches on his legs, 45-year-old Compean has quite the story of survival after getting lost in the wildfire-scorched Angeles National Forest. But first and foremost, he wants to make sure one thing is clear.

"I'm happy to be alive," he said with a wide grin.

On Monday, Compean started off on the Buckhorn trail in the Angeles National Forest, but soon became disoriented because so many of the trees and signs in the area had been burned by wildfire and were destroyed. Feeling weak and lost, Compean took shelter for the night in a spot between rocks – just as he saw a bear and mountain lions across the canyon.

"I was thinking I hope they don't come over here because I just have a stick and rocks just in case they get close to me," he said.

The next morning, Compan made his way to the other side of the canyon and started climbing up to the remote ridge line, where he would be more visible to searchers and could get a signal on his phone.

"I got all these cuts and bruises trying to get up there," he said. "When I got up there, I told myself, 'OK, this is my last chance.'"

missing hiker legs
(credit: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

With his cell phone about to die, Compean texted two pictures to his roommate, hoping they would give searchers clues to his location. Only the now-famous picture of his legs made it through to his roommate, who took it to the LA County Sheriff's Department, which put it on social media asking "avid hikers" where they though the location might be.

It wasn't much, but it was enough for satellite mapping enthusiast Benjamin Kuo, who helped authorities narrow down Rene's location.

"I found the location right here, and they actually found him right about there," Kuo said, referring to a map of mountainous terrain.

Sheriff's officials said Kuo's GPS coordinates matched the cell phone data they were already using and helped a search and rescue team pinpoint Compean's exact location.

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Compean was hoisted up into the sheriff's search and rescue helicopter. Although he was cold, weak, and dehydrated – he was still alive, safe, and feeling incredibly thankful to everyone who pitched in to find him.

"Search and rescue sheriffs, they're awesome. I really appreciate everything they did, they didn't give up," Compean said. "Thank you everybody for your efforts and for helping in the search. I'm grateful that the message got out and everybody did what they did."

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