South Florida firefighters get stuck in blizzard while climbing Mount Whitney

Friends say they will do trip again, but not in October

DAVIE, Fla. – A group of South Florida firefighters spoke to Local 10 News on Tuesday after they were nearly killed while climbing one of the tallest peaks in America.

The five friends from South Florida went on a hiking trip last week in California, only to get stuck in a blizzard while climbing Mount Whitney.

"Over there, it's a 14,500-foot hike to reach the summit," Billy Cox, from Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, said.

Their hike began on Wednesday but on Thursday, the day they were expected to reach the summit, things started to take a turn for the worse.

Two of the friends, Justin Posner and Chris Welling, stayed back at the campground. They had seen a storm rolling in and Posner had altitude sickness. But the other three members of the group made their way to the summit.

"From our campground, looking up, you couldn't even see the mountain at all, so we knew our guys by now had to be getting close to the mountain. So we knew, this is not good. They're up there," Posner, from Davie Fire Rescue, said.

The visibility was bad at the summit and the guys knew they were in for some trouble.

The three worked their way down for hours in complete darkness, using only head lamps to see. They got back to the campsite at 9:30 p.m. and a blizzard hit an hour later.

Wind whipped at their tents all night long, burying them in feet of snow.

In the morning, they decided to try to make their way down the mountain, but got lost.

"We finally got to the point where we realized we were hitting too many dead ends," Richard Stroes, from Davie Fire Rescue, said. "We said, 'This is enough. The best thing to do is to go back and regroup.'"

One of their tents had been destroyed at the campsite.

The friends were figuring out their strategy, with snow still coming down and wind still whipping at their skin, when another hiker who was stranded on the mountain approached them and said that he might be able to help everyone get down.

The group hiked through several feet of snow, barely able to make it out onto the trail. They reached the base safely hours after they were supposed to have made it down.

"It was amazing," Brent Bourgeois, from Davie Fire Rescue, said. "We were all happy. I think all of our hands went in the air. It was an amazing feeling."

The forecast originally only called for a couple of inches of snow, so the blizzard was completely unexpected.

Surprisingly, the group of friends said they plan to do the trip again, just not in October.

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