Having just arrived in California on an overnight flight from Florida, Peter Biava is looking forward to getting back to nature. He meets up with two friends, and together they set out for a day’s hiking along a Santa Barbara trail.
As the group enjoy a spot of climbing at the bottom of a waterfall, one of them decides to stop and snap some photographs. What’s more, this decision is part of an incredible chain of events that will ultimately save the life of a young woman.
On March 17, 2014, Biava met up with his brother-in-law Joe Villapiano and Villapiano’s girlfriend, Nicole Gergen, in California. The trio decided to set off on a hike to a popular waterfall in the local area.
On a whim, the party decided to head off the main trail and trek down to the bottom of the waterfall. They wanted to enjoy a spot of bouldering, a kind of climbing which involves scaling small boulders or rocks without ropes or a harness.
The spot the group trekked to was literally off the beaten track, and they expected to have the area to themselves. However, they were not alone.
While the others climbed about on the rocks, Villapiano busied himself taking photographs of their day out. They could have stopped in countless other locales, but they happened to choose this one – and spotted something unbelievable in the process.
Gergen was the first to notice that something was up. The 29-year-old pediatrics resident from Rhode Island saw a flash of red hair at the edge of her vision. Then, alarmingly, she saw movement.
When the three hikers investigated further, they were shocked to discover a young woman lying on her front in the mud. Seeing that she was severely injured, they called 911 and stayed with her until help came. But just who was the mystery woman? And how had she come to be discovered so far from the trail, gravely injured and all alone? The story is a tragic one.
On the afternoon of March 16, 22-year-old Saylor Guilliams from Ventura, C.A. had decided to go hiking with her pal Brenden Vega in Santa Barbara County. However, unprepared for the conditions of the difficult trek, they soon ran into problems.
It grew dark, and the pair made efforts to light their way along the path with their cellphones. It wasn’t enough to illuminate the treacherous trail, though, and Guilliams fell and fractured a leg.
Vega endeavored to carry the injured Guilliams, but he too fell, making their predicament worse than ever. Now with a broken ankle as well, Guilliams could not walk any further. Still, despite his own injuries, which included a broken elbow, Vega determinedly went to find help – leaving his companion alone on the trail.
“I was yelling for help all night and the rest of the next day,” Guilliams said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “At some point I didn’t think anyone would find me. No one would save me and I would end up dead.”
By the time the hikers found her, Guilliams could scream no more. She had, astonishingly, been on the trail for almost 24 hours.
Luckily, Villapiano had his cellphone with him – despite Biava having urged him to leave it behind so that they could better enjoy their time out in nature without interruption. And after Villapiano called for an ambulance, the 33-year-old used his phone to contact Guilliams’ mother – who had been going frantic looking for her daughter.
Eventually, Guilliams was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where she began the slow process of recovery. And yet two days into her treatment, she received another terrible blow.
Guilliams’ mother arrived at the hospital to break the sad news – that Vega had fallen over a ledge while attempting to seek help. His injuries had been fatal, and he had been found dead just 300 feet from where Guilliams was rescued.
The incident had a profound effect on Biava; it was an experience he shared in a Reddit post a few weeks after the incident had taken place. The Reddit thread had asked hikers to share the weirdest or creepiest things that they had discovered while out hiking, and Biava related how he felt haunted by what might have been.
“What if I hadn’t been unemployed and was at work,” he wondered. “I wouldn’t have been hiking. What if my friends hadn’t visited from out of town?”
The three hikers were also spooked to find that Guilliams appeared in the background of the photos that Villapiano had taken on the trail – even though they had not yet spotted her. According to Biava, he spends every day wondering what would have happened if they had spotted the woman in the photographs too late.
Today, Guilliams has made a full recovery and studies holistic healing while working as an assistant at her mother’s legal firm. At the time she was interviewed last year, she had even begun to go hiking again – although, in her own words, she “made sure to stay on the trail.”