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Woman found living in tent released from hospital, can return to woods

A section of Diamond Fork Canyon where a woman was found. Credit: Utah County Sheriff's Office.

SALT LAKE CITY — A woman found living in a tent in Diamond Fork Canyon after being considered missing for months has been released from the hospital.  And she could go back to live in the woods if she so chooses.

Investigators said the woman decided to live off the grid, and she’s not breaking any rules by doing so.

Search and rescue crews had gone up the mountains of Diamond Fork Canyon several times looking for this woman even though no one filed a missing person’s report.  Sergeant Spencer Cannon said they started their search after finding her abandoned car near the area.  A detective was assigned to the case. And he reportedly tried to find her family members living outside of the U.S., to no avail.

(The woman’s car found near Diamond Fork Canyon before it was impounded. Credit: Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

“We put [a message] out over social media, by Facebook message, to people who had this woman’s same last name,” Cannons said. But no one responded.

He said the woman was found after drone operators flew over the area and spotted her tent.  Cannon said the woman even popped her head out to see what was happening.  A sergeant and the operator went up to retrieve the drone, and the woman reportedly confirmed she was the person they had been searching for.

“It’s just the way, apparently, she wants her life to be, and that’s OK,” Cannon said.  “We just wanted to make sure, when we found her, that she had an opportunity to have some services if she wanted them.”

The woman, who is not being identified, was taken to Utah Valley Hospital for treatment but has since been discharged.

How can someone survive in the mountains through the harsh Utah winter months with just a tent?  Wild Jake’s Survival Institute owner Jacob Paul said once someone understands the basics of insulation, they can survive the cold indefinitely.

“If she has an understanding of how to insulate the shelter,” Paul said, “then that would keep it warm throughout the winter.  Snow is a great insulator. Juniper bark is a great insulator.”

Investigators believe she survived on a diet of moss, berries and stream water.  Paul believes the warmer-than-normal winter made it much easier for her to find the food she needed.  Had there been a normal snowpack on the mountains, it could have been a different story.

(The tent where the woman had lived for the past several months. Credit: Utah County Sheriff’s Office.)

“It would have been [difficult] to find and forage for food, especially if you don’t know where to look and what to look for,” according to Paul.

He said that the woman wasn’t just “surviving’ in the cold woods.  Rather, she was living the “Bushcraft” lifestyle where someone can actually thrive while living in nature.  In order to do that, Paul said you need to cover six basic needs, namely food, water, shelter, fire, first aid, and the psychology of survival.