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'I didn't think it could happen' | Two hikers found safe after being lost three days in forest

Two hikers expected they would spend around four hours hiking in the Cherokee National Forest. It ended up being three days before they could get back home.

MONROE COUNTY, Tenn. — Over Labor Day weekend, two brothers ventured into the Cherokee National Forest to enjoy the trails. The ground was soft with rain; greenery surrounded them.

The Monroe County residents also brought with them years of hiking experience.

They expected the Grassy Gap Trailhead hike would only last around four hours. Instead, they spent about three days in the woods. Lost.

"Everything on you is hurting. Your bones are hurting from sleeping on the ground soaking wet, and your whole body is aching, but staying out there wasn't going to help you," said Sean McClain.

"I just kept telling him I was sorry for getting him into this," said Ryan McClain, the other brother.  

Rescuers found the brothers starving, dehydrated and exhausted. They were far from unscathed, but they were alive.

"I didn't think it could happen," Sean said. "Found out real quick how you can get turned around up there."

The Grassy Gap Trailhead is around 8 miles long in Monroe County, near Copperhill. It is considered a moderately challenging route, and it's a popular route for backpackers, bird watchers and hikers. The trail features flowing rivers and opportunities to see some of East Tennessee's natural plants.

"There's no sunshine for two days solid, just raining all the time," Sean said. 

"We was drenched. We were drowning rats," Ryan said. 

Both said they do not plan to ever go hiking again without bringing emergency gear. they also wanted to warn other hikers to stay on marked trails and to always be prepared for the worst — no matter how experienced they are.

"There was so much brush in there we couldn't even find the trail while we were still on it," Ryan said. 

"I never thought we wouldn't make it out because after the first. Getting up the next day, we thought for sure we would be able to get up out of there," Sean said. "We got to three days up in there. That's when the desperation kicked in."

Both were found on Wednesday and returned home with new stories to tell about their adventures on, and off, the trail. The brothers said they are thankful to all those involved in their search and blessed to be back with their loving families. 

Credit: Mary Klingler
The McClain brothers reunited with family

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