The body of a Hollister hiker was extracted Sunday afternoon from the rocky face of a tree-covered mountain jutting high above Highway 152, according to Sgt. Jose Cardoza with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.
The body was identified Tuesday as 22-year-old Travis Bermudes by the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office.
On Monday, nine officers and 20 personnel from the SCC Search and Rescue team retrieved Bermudes’ body after he fell approximately 40 feet from Lover’s Leap. This rocky peak is located east of Gilroy past Casa de Fruta in unincorporated Santa Clara County.
Bermudes, along with his hiking companion named James Cody Martin III – also in his 20s and hailing from Hollister – drove at 9 a.m. Sunday to the Bell Station access area near the 14000 block of Pacheco Pass Highway. The pair began their day by hiking and climbing rocks and cliffs in the area, according to a press release from Cardoza.
Cardoza says the pair climbed to the top of Lover’s Leap – a rocky basalt peak overlooking a valley near Highway 152 – to do some rappelling activities. While at the top, both hikers “lost pertinent equipment they needed to safely rappel from the top,” according to an updated press release sent Tuesday.
Bermudes and Martin attempted to retrieve their equipment and lost their footing, causing them to fall from the cliff. Rescue officers estimate Bermudes tumbled approximately 40 feet.
Martin was able to make his way to a nearby property about one mile away and asked the residents to phone 911 for help, according to Cardoza.
“He was losing consciousness and bleeding,” said Cardoza, describing Martin who was later transported to an unspecified hospital.
Martin is in stable condition and is expected to survive from his injuries, according to an updated press release.
It is unclear exactly how Martin was injured; if he fell first or fell trying to rescue Bermudes, Cardoza said. The relationship of the two hikers is unknown, save for the fact they set out on their hike together, Cardoza said.
At least a dozen Sheriff’s deputies, along with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, were dispatched at 4:38 p.m. Sunday to the scene. As dark descended and the weather turned unfavorable, officers had to suspend the rescue operation and stay overnight to protect the crime scene, Cardoza said.
“It’s a remote area where the hiker fell – it’s extremely steep,” said Cardoza. “Some of our search and rescue deputies almost got injured and hurt last night.”
On Monday afternoon, Crime Scene Investigators, deputies, detectives and members of the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team successfully resumed the perilous process of retrieving Bermudes’ body.
The effort took close to two hours and was executed with various ropes and special equipment that allowed rescue crews to scale what Cardoza described as “rough terrain” in cold, windy weather.
Cardoza did not know if Bermudes died on impact, but confirmed Bermudes was deceased when he was located Sunday evening by search and rescue personnel.
When asked if any foul play was suspected, Cardoza said it is standard protocol for CSI to collect evidence when someone dies from anything other than natural causes.
“Just because they’re out there doesn’t mean there was a crime,” he explained. “It’s a checks and balances procedure just to make sure there’s nothing suspicious.”
Detectives said the injuries found on Bermudes “are consistent with somebody who fell from a long distance like that,” according to Cardoza.
The extraction of Bermudes’ body was staged on private property located inland from Highway 152, according to Cardoza. The nearest crossroad to the scene is Kaiser-Aetna Road, Cardoza said.
Lover’s Leap measures somewhere between 1,080 and 1,100 feet high, according to various elevation reports. The area is also a source of local legend and lore surrounding a Native American princess who leapt to her death from the mountain because of a broken heart.
Anyone with information on this case is being asked to contact Detective Sergeants Ryan Elder or Julian Quinonez at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office at (408) 808-4500 or the anonymous tip line at (408) 808-4431.