Reno, Nev. • Two people who got international attention two decades ago when they survived eight days in frigid temperatures in northwest Nevada said the ordeal that ended with this week’s rescue of a family near Lovelock struck familiar notes with them.
“When I first saw the story, I thought to myself, ‘Oh boy. I know what they’re going through,’” Jim Stolpa told the Reno Gazette-Journal in a telephone interview from Milwaukee. “The fact that it was in northwest Nevada, that piqued my interest.”
Jim and Jennifer Stolpa and their infant son, Clayton, spent eight days in northern Washoe County in December 1992 and January 1993 after getting stuck in snow trying to find a shortcut to Pocatello, Idaho. Clayton was not injured, but the Bay Area couple lost toes to frostbite. The case drew major media attention and was made into a TV movie starring Neil Patrick Harris as Jim Stolpa.
Their incident took place about 90 miles north of where the family was rescued in the wilderness near Lovelock on Tuesday.
Jim Stolpa said he first heard about the group of two adults and four children when people were looking for them on Sunday.
“I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about what happened to us every day, but when I see something like that, I focus on it more,” Jim Stolpa said. “Having gone through it, I know exactly what they’re feeling. ... The sense of helplessness and frustration and fear and all those things.”
Jennifer Stolpa said when she heard about the missing family near Lovelock, she has the same reaction she gets where she hears about others who are missing.
“I feel more for the people who don’t know what’s going on,” Jennifer Stolpa said from her Wisconsin home. “The only thing I ever get teared up about is being a parent now and I couldn’t imagine not knowing where my kids were.”
Jennifer Stolpa said she first learned about the Lovelock incident on Tuesday when her mother posted a story on her Facebook page about the search for the missing family. It wasn’t long afterward when a cable news network carried a story that the family had been found.
Everyone is fine and the children are safe, so it ended well, Jennifer Stolpa said.
“I guess there’s part of me that’s, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you’d do that with children that young,’” Jennifer Stolpa said of the adventure into the snow. “At the same time, what the father did beyond that point, heating up rocks, that’s great, I applaud that. . . . But I question their judgment of being out there in the first place.”
“Making the decision to go out there may not have been have been the best in the world, but keeping a level head and making good decisions is critical for survival in a situation like that,” Jim Stolpa said. “The adults in this situation must have made some correct decisions, otherwise we would not be having this conversation now.”
Would he have advice for those involved?
“It’s a terrible situation and you have bad thoughts some times and it can be kind of nightmarish,” Jim Stolpa said. “I would recommend that they talk to each other and talk to others about it. Be free in discussing it with family.”
He is experiencing single-digit temperatures in recent days in Milwaukee.
“Feeling that cold on my skin brings that all back,” Jim Stolpa said. “Had we buried it deep a long time ago, that would make a day like today tougher.”
Jennifer and Jim Stolpa applauded the efforts of people who searched for the missing group. Jennifer Stolpa said she still thinks fondly of the people who rescued them and of the Reno doctors who saved their feet so they are able to walk.
The two, who divorced in 2006, came back to Nevada with “Dateline NBC” after the incident but have not made any other major trips to Nevada since the incident.
Clayton Stolpa suffered no ill effects from the incident and is enrolled in college, Jennifer Stolpa said.