A single text message was key to bringing home a lost California hiker

Hiker's story of survival
Hiker's story of survival 01:43

A single text message was the key to bringing home 45-year-old Rene Compean after he spent a night lost in the wilderness this week. The avid hiker lost his way in Southern California's Angeles National Forest on Monday.

After spending the night in a makeshift shelter, hiding from a bear and mountain lions, a dehydrated and weakened Compean decided to leave his shelter in search of a ridgeline. 

"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," Compean told CBS News.

He made his way to a ridgeline where he was able to text a single picture of his legs dangling over the edge of a cliff to his roommate from his dying phone. 

"East of Buckhorn I think," his text message read. "What can I do? Call the police???" his roommate replied. 

The roommate gave the picture to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which posted it on social media asking local hikers if they recognized the surroundings. 

The post read, "Are You an Avid Hiker in the Mt. Waterman Area? #LASD SAR Teams need help locating a #missing hiker. He sent this picture to a friend. His car was found near Buckhorn Campground/Trailhead."

They received a tip from Benjamin Kuo, a satellite mapping enthusiast. "I found the location right here and they actually found him right about there," Kuo said as he pointed on his computer.

With Kuo's help, rescuers were able to narrow down Compean's location. His GPS coordinates matched cell phone data the sheriffs' department were already using and helped the search team pinpoint the hiker's exact location. He was lifted to safety by a rescue crew ending the ordeal.

"I was like thank God they found me. A tear came out a little bit, like I'm saved," 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."

But Compean's misdirection could end up costing him. Angeles National Forest spokesperson John Clearwater told CBS Los Angeles on Friday that the incident is now under investigation after Compean was found in a federally closed area that was shut down to the public for both safety and forest recovery after it was burned in the Bobcat Fire. 

In a statement by, Capt. Russ Tuttle, chief of law enforcement for the Angeles National Forest, wrote "Entering a fire closure zone is a misdemeanor crime...It can result in up to six months in jail and up to a $10,000 fine."

Authorities have not said whether any charges will be filed against Compean or if he will have to pay a fine.