Not all those who wander are lost.
Search and rescue officials learned that lesson last weekend when they found a missing woman living in a remote canyon of Utah, where she had been sleeping in a tent and eating grass and moss for the last five months.
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office says she looked weak but she was “there by choice,” despite the difficult conditions of her off-the-grid lifestyle.
The woman, 47, was declared missing last November after her seemingly abandoned car and camping equipment were found in a parking lot near Spanish Fork Canyon, roughly 75 kilometres south of Salt Lake City.
The Utah County Sheriff’s Office searched the area but failed to find her, and could not get in touch with any of her relatives. However, they did find information to identify the missing woman, and they ultimately impounded the car and held her equipment on the belief that she had gone to Colorado.
The missing woman’s co-workers said they didn’t know what had happened to her, but they did warn authorities that she “might struggle with mental health challenges,” sheriff’s officials said in a news release.
Search and rescue teams scoured the area several times on foot and from the sky over the following months, even as winter set in and the temperature dipped below freezing.
They finally got lucky last weekend when a non-profit group brought in a drone to help with the search. The drone crashed somewhere in the canyon, so the pilot and a police officer set out to find it.
They ended up finding a tent instead. The small tent seemed to be abandoned, but the police officer opened it up and found the woman inside.
“This woman, 47, had lost a significant amount of weight and was weak. But she was apparently also resourceful,” the sheriff’s office said.
The woman told the officer that she had been living at the site for some time, and that she was surviving off grass, moss and fresh water from a nearby river. A few campers had also given her food now and then, she said.
“We now believe she knowingly chose to remain in the area over the months since November 2020,” the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities ultimately brought the woman back to civilization and took her to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.
However, they say there’s nothing wrong with what she did.
“We want to be clear that while many people might choose to not live in the circumstances and conditions this woman did, she did nothing against the law,” the sheriff’s office said.
Authorities say the woman “might choose to return to the same area” in the future, so they’ve provided her with some extra resources in case she decides to do so.
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