SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A South Lake Tahoe man said he is fortunate to be alive after getting stuck while hiking in deep snow.
Robert Spencer, 88, known as Brian to his friends, spent 40 years as a firefighter in the Bay Area battling blazes and rescuing victims, but he was on the reverse side this weekend when he was rescued by what he called “two amazing women.”
Spencer went for his daily walk on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 31, a couple of days after a massive storm dropped several feet of snow, and ventured off the road and into a wildland area in the N. Upper Truckee neighborhood near Lake Tahoe Blvd., where snow was 3-4 feet deep.
“I miscalculated how deep the snow was and I just couldn’t handle it,” Spencer told the Tribune.
Spencer fought in World War II as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force after growing up in England, said he thought he could make it through the untouched snowfield without issue. He admitted that he doesn’t have much experience in deeper snow and has only lived in Tahoe for about a year and a half.
He began postholing in snow up to his thighs when one of his feet became stuck, he couldn’t lift it. He ended up laying down and tried to crawl on his hands and knees back to the road an estimated 600-700 feet away.
“All my life I’ve been the tough guy and I started through thinking I could make it, but I should’ve turned back,” he said. “I’m not a quitter, but I should have been.”
Spencer said he struggled in the same spot for about 90 minutes until he was spotted by a neighbor.
“I thought it was an animal at first with his black furry hat he had on,” said local resident Denise Upton as she watched Spencer through a window from her home.
Upton is used to rescuing animals, that’s part of her job as director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. She said she’s gone on calls looking for a lost goat, a lost iguana and added that there are several animals being cared for right now at LTWC.
Upton, and her visiting friend Deb Redmon, both 66 years old, went out to investigate when they discovered Spencer.
“He was soaking wet, had snow in his boots and his teeth were chattering,” Upton said.
“The women were amazing,” Spencer said. “They came right in tamping down the snow.”
The women helped Spencer to his feet and started leading him back to safety.
“One of the women that helped me was just like a fire captain,” he said. “She was giving orders and she said ‘put your hands on my shoulders’ and walked me out. What they did for me was amazing. I’m quite sure it would have killed me. Another hour and it would’ve been dark and I would’ve been in real trouble.”
Once the women helped Spencer to safety, Upton turned on the heater and drove him home about a half mile away.
Spencer still takes his daily walks and was back at it again this week, although he planned on staying on the road and not venturing out into the snow.
“It’s a nice feeling being in the right place at the right time,” Upton said. “If he had laid there and nobody had seen him, it wouldn’t have ended good.”