Valentine's Day Missing Couple Part 4: The Story, According to the Couple



 

Author's note: The following is an amalgamation of three sources, all of which were listed in Parts 2 & 3. In order to make this article more enjoyable for you, I prioritized ensuring that it flows well. Unfortunately, flow and in-text citations did not go hand-in-hand this time. So, although I have pasted my sources at the end as usual, you will see only one in-text citationthis is for a quote by Ian Irwin, from an article by Sue Dremann, a reporter for Palo Alto Weekly. I owe her my deepest gratitude for her article on the couple's side of the story, for most of this article draws from her own in-depth account of their time in the wilderness.

 


Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky drove up to Inverness, California for a short Valentine’s Day Vacation on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. They stayed at an Airbnb rental that they’d been to several times before, located at the end of Via de la Vista in the Seahaven neighborhood. They planned to stay there until Saturday, February 15.


On Valentine’s Day—Friday, February 14—the couple, upon returning to their Airbnb cottage in the afternoon, decided to kick off the evening with a pre-dinner, 20-minute walk to a good spot for watching the sunset. They set off down their driveway and made their way to the end of Via de la Vista to the mouth of a skinny path, which they used as a shortcut to the Jepson/Johnstone Trail—a popular hiking trail just over the border into Tomales Bay State Park.

A 2021 sunset over Point Reyes, as seen from Inverness Ridge

At the intersection with the Jepson/Johnstone Trail, the couple bore left, traveling maybe a quarter-mile northwest, at which point two things happened, the order of which is unclear: Ian and Carol got lost, and also somehow wound up off the trail.


 

The video above shows the Jepson/Johnstone trail. We start looking North (the way the couple went), then pan right, to the South, doing almost a full 360 to show, at the end, the narrow footpath that leads to the end of Via de la Vista—the path that Carol & Ian took to get to the intersection in this video.

 

Allegedly, the couple had turned around as soon as the sun went down. But the sky darkened very quickly and they became enclosed in “coastal mist” or “fog.” They became disoriented, unable to tell which was trail and which was bush. Then Ian hit his head and broke his glasses, and blood from a gash on his forehead dripped into his eyes, making it even harder to see where he was going, so they decided to stay put until the sun came up.


That first night on Inverness Ridge was chilly and uncomfortable. They made beds out of ferns and huddled together for warmth, but still, they hardly got any sleep until 10:00 AM, when the sun was high enough that it streamed through the forest and warmed them up. Even so, they knew they couldn’t sleep for long because they needed to start finding their way back to the cottage.


When the couple finally got up and looked around, they found that they were high up on Inverness Ridge. Ian could see Tomales Bay, and they could both hear cars and people in the distance. They decided to try and follow the sounds. After spending the rest of their morning battling through underbrush so thick that Carol later compared it to a Brillo pad, they realized they weren’t getting anywhere. So, Ian, reasoning that if they could get down to Tomales Bay, they’d find people at one of the many little beaches, suggested that they head downhill.


The underbrush near where Ian & Carol were lost
a Brillo pad
a few more Brillo pads, for texture


He led the way, throwing his body against the wall of brush over and over again to flatten it so that they could walk on top of it rather than elbow their way through it. Eventually, they came to a creek; or, rather, they fell through the flattened vegetation into the creek, soaking themselves from the toes to the waist. At first, the realization that they’d found water was a relief, but it smelled like raw sewage, so they decided not to drink it, reasoning that getting sick on top of being lost would make their situation much worse.


Towards the end of that first day in the bush, the couple saw homes up on an adjacent hillside. They started trying to get closer, yelling to catch the attention of anyone who might be inside, but two things quickly became apparent: the underbrush was too thick and the hill too steep to get any closer, and the houses were empty—summer homes, presumably. Thus, they realized they had to settle down for a second night in the woods.


Fiddleheads are fern leaves before they unfurl

Though they didn’t have water, Carol found fiddleheads and other edible wild plants for them to eat. It wasn’t ideal, but it was sustenance, and it got them through the second night.


More fiddleheads with fully unfurled leaves for reference




The couple spent most of their second full day laying low, but yelling for help. Nobody came, and they passed a third night in much the same manner as the second night. On Day Three, their voices were hoarse, but they kept yelling for help. Again, they didn’t move much, exhausted from the lack of food, water, and sleep, and day slipped into Night Four.


Things took a turn on their fourth day in the woods. Severe dehydration finally kicked in and they began to hallucinate. Luckily, it wasn’t constant; it seemed that whenever one of the pair was confused, the other was lucid. They saw imaginary people and would get confused as to where they were. Carol, at one point, thought that they were in their bedroom, and that all they had to do to get warm was to go to the closet and get a blanket. She also removed her jacket, thinking it didn’t belong to her. Realizing that they needed to find water as soon as possible, the couple got on the move again, and Carol lost a shoe in the mud. She kept walking with only one shoe for a while, but then lost the other one, continuing to walk in her socks until she eventually got annoyed and discarded those as well. Even so, her feet were in better shape than Ian’s—his boots and socks had been soaked through so many times from traipsing through streams and mud that he was developing something akin to trench foot, a condition made famous by soldiers standing in wet trenches during World War I for so long that their feet began to rot.


Because Ian’s feet were in so much pain, they had to take frequent breaks so that he could rest. He didn’t dare remove his shoes to check the severity of his blisters because he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get them back on again. Carol tried to lead him through the vegetation from clearing to clearing by making sure to find the easiest way through, tearing off pieces of her silk scarf and tying them to branches so that he could follow, but they quickly decided this wasn’t the best idea—as soon as they were some twenty feet apart, they couldn’t see each other through the thick bush, and the last thing they wanted was to get separated out there.


At first, Carol and Ian had been confident in their wilderness survival skills. Both had been backpacking several times, many times together, and knew how to take care of themselves in the wild. But their confidence slowly waned as the days passed on, and by the fourth day, the question of whether they’d make it out alive began to buzz around in their minds. Ian began to think about family and friends, wondering how they’d react if he and Carol were never found. Carol had similar thoughts, realizing how much of her life she wasn’t ready to leave behind. Despite their delusional states of mind, their exhaustion, and the slimming chance of their rescue, however, the pair continued onward, reminding themselves that they had each other and how much worse the situation could be if they’d been separated, or if only one of them had gotten lost and the other was part of the search party.


Dark thoughts did manage to slip into their minds, though, and when they did, they tried their best to address them in a matter-of-fact, humorous way. Ian and Carol had, prior to getting lost in the woods, discussed the idea of being “composted” when they died rather than getting cremated or buried in a casket. While taking a break from pushing through the thick vegetation in the woods, Ian, realizing they were sitting on dead leaves and branches, said, “You know about that compost burial? We might be accomplishing it right now.” [1]


By Day Five, Ian and Carol realized that if they didn’t drink something, they would definitely die. The most abundant water source, by far, was the groundwater, which they saw pooled in animal prints, and which also came up and filled their own footprints as they walked. After ensuring that this water didn’t smell like sewage, the couple set about figuring out the easiest way to consume it. They tried lying down and drinking from the puddles, but soon found that it was less difficult to dip a sock into the water and then wring the water out into their mouths.


Days Five, Six, Seven, and Eight were spent mostly sitting around the ground seeps, singing songs to pass the time. The songs were usually classics, but the traditional words often got replaced to better reflect their predicament. At night, they found that their drinking water glowed in the dark. Tiny specks of light clung to the edges of the puddles and to sticks and leaves at the bottom. They presumed these were bioluminescent microorganisms of some kind.


The prospect of being rescued had not been ruled out for Ian and Carol. They’d see helicopters fly over them at night, and they’d scream and yell and wave their arms around. Ian would take off his shirt, hoping to make it easier to be caught on the infrared cams. It never worked, but it gave them hope that somebody was out there, looking for them.


On Day 9 (Saturday, February 22, 2020), the couple’s hope had all but dried up. Thoughts of death were unavoidable. They stayed near their water, too tired to move, as the hopelessness began to sink in. And then, to their utmost surprise, they heard faint voices. They called out, and the voices called back.


Unconvinced that they weren’t just hearing things, the couple waited, afraid to get their hopes up. But then, a mud-soaked golden retriever suddenly burst through the vegetation downhill from them, and the couple realized—they were finally being rescued.


It took the two humans responsible for the dog a little while longer to whack through the bush, but when they arrived, bearing Gatorade, water, snacks, and warm clothing, Ian and Carol were beside themselves with joy and relief. When the helicopter arrived to lift the couple out of the thicket, Ian was so excited that he burst into song. As he ascended into the sky under the helicopter, he felt a profound connection to all beings who had come before him and suffered any type of hardship—the native people whose lives had been destroyed by the white man; the people who had gotten lost in the wilderness before, the people who had traveled on foot across the continent; the slaves in the South—and he sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”


When it was Carol’s turn to be lifted out, she at first got nervous because of her fear of heights, but as soon as she was above the trees and could see the land, the whole of Tomales Bay, the Point Reyes Peninsula, the coastline, she forgot all about her fear. Instead, she marveled at the beauty of the world, relishing the view more than she’d ever relished a view before in her life.


The couple was brought to Marin General Hospital in the same ambulance, and was kept side-by-side during treatment at the ICU. All told, both were hypothermic and dehydrated. Both had taken a serious beating from the foliage—they were covered in cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Ian’s feet suffered nerve damage because of his wet boots. Carol had scrapes on her feet, but nothing as bad as Ian’s.


Their main takeaway: don’t take life for granted. Appreciate every little thing, from eating a meal to seeing a bird in your backyard, because you never know when those things won’t be available to you.



 

Sources

 

[1] Dremann, Sue. "A Lost Palo Alto Couple. A 'miraculous' rescue. Here's what happened to Ian Irwin and Carol Kiparsky." Palo Alto Online, 4 December 2020, https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2020/12/04/a-lost-palo-alto-couple-a-miraculous-rescue-heres-what-happened-to-ian-irwin-and-carol-kiparsky. Accessed 19 February 2021.


[2] Cartwright, Braden. "Lost couple found alive after week in the woods." Point Reyes Light, 26 February, 2020, https://www.ptreyeslight.com/news/lost-couple-found-alive-after-week-woods/. Accessed 10 February, 2021.


[3] Castañeda, Leonardo & Aldo Toledo. "'He Started Singing:' Palo Alto couple found alive after vanishing a week ago during a hike." The Mercury News, 22 February, 2020, https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/02/22/missing-palo-alto-couple-found-alive-extraction-ongoing/#:~:text=Carol%20Kiparsky%20and%20Ian%20Irwin%20went%20on%20a%20hike%20on,after%20search%20by%20rescue%20crews.. Accessed 18 February, 2021.

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