When the East Fork of the Kaweah Rivers is viewed from the Mineral King Road near the 2.5 mile marker, one can see swimming hole after swimming hole. This makes it difficult to resist the temptation to scramble down. But don’t! Because what goes down must come back up — and in most places along the East Fork, it’s nearly impossible without technical gear.
Apparently, the temptation to go down was too much for three swimmers on Sunday, August 18. After getting cooled off and enjoying one of the best river swims imaginable, the trio started back up the way they came down.
After trying to find a route, they realized that they were no match for the sheer, slippery granite. Their next idea was to cross to the east side of the river and find a way out in that direction. They soon got stranded on a ledge.
By this time, it was approaching dusk so they signaled by flashing a strobe light in the direction of a lighted building in the distance. Guests at Buckeye Tree Lodge saw the signal and someone called 911.
In less than an hour, a CHP helicopter was shining a light on the stranded swimmers so rescuers could get to their position. Two deputies tried to walk the swimmers out but Michael Mendiola, 33, of Tulare, became overheated and couldn’t continue.
At that point the two deputies and the swimmers hunkered down for the night. At dawn, a fire rescue team arrived and moved Mendiola to a site where the helicopter could land.
Mendiola was airlifted to Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia for treatment. The other two victims were examined at the scene and released.