In what can only be called a remarkable display of resiliency and resourcefulness, a 10-year-old girl was found alive and well after spending more than 24 hours alone in Washington’s rugged Cascade Mountains.
When asked how she survived a cold night alone in the mountains approximately 85 miles east of Seattle, Shunghla Mashwani simply said, “I was thinking I would go to sleep then wake up in the morning and find my mom and dad in the forest,” according to KING 5 News, Seattle.
How The Girl And Her Family Were Separated
Shunghla’s ordeal began when her extended family gathered in the Cle Elum River Valley on a recent Sunday afternoon. She then became separated from the group when they crossed a footbridge over the river to eat lunch near the Cathedral Pass Trailhead, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook.
To put that location in perspective, the Cathedral Pass Trail winds through an area made up of “river valley, old-growth forest, lake, meadows, [and] ridgetop,” the U.S. Forest Service explains. The trail eventually accesses the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, which is described as “glacier-carved” wilderness known for “rocky ridges and rugged peaks.”
The Mashwani family, who came to the U.S. from Afghanistan 2 years ago, told searchers they like to spend time in the high backcountry because it reminds them of home, the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office explains.
“When the family walked back across the river to the trailhead parking area to eat lunch, they noticed Shunghla was missing,” the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office continued. “Around 20 adults in the group immediately went back and started searching.”
Her family searched for Shunghla for nearly 2 hours. There is no cellphone service in the valley, but eventually, a passerby offered the use of their Starlink phone at their cabin to call 911.
Deputies, volunteer ground search teams, and search and rescue teams from a long list of law enforcement and other agencies across western Washington joined the search, which included the use of drones, K9 teams, swift-water rescue teams in boats, and helicopters.
“The search area was steep, rugged, and remote, with dense trees and undergrowth cut through by the fast-running Cle Elum River,” according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Importantly, the Sheriff’s Office had Shunghla’s father, Shir Mohammed Mashwani, record a message in their native language, according to CNN. The message, which told Shunghla that people were searching for her, was then broadcast over the search area.
A Happy Ending
Shunghla was finally spotted more than 24 hours later by two ground search volunteers.
“She told her family and rescuers that she found herself suddenly separated and alone when the family was traveling back toward the footbridge, and she couldn’t find the bridge on her own,” the Sheriff’s Office explained. “Shunghla hiked downstream through the dense forest and spent the cold night between some trees. She said she knew it was the right thing to follow the river.”
She had traveled approximately 1.5 miles.
“The prospect of a little girl being out there alone in the woods is terrifying,” said Chris Whitsett, Kittitas County inspector, KING 5 News reports. “We’re ecstatic that we were able to find the result that we did instead of the result that we feared.”
Shunghla’s family, of course, is grateful to the search and rescue teams and everyone else who helped find her.
“Everyone is proud of her and that she is brave and takes care of herself on the mountain,” said Shir Mashwani, KING 5 News reports.
For more about the Cascade Range, or the Cascades, be sure to read our North Cascades National Park content, including: