SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jesse and Isaac Brace spent a sleepless night alone in the Sierra wilderness living a nightmare: Their father lay dead on a trail nearby.
The 12- and 13-year-old brothers from Livermore watched in horror as their father, Frank Brace, fell to the ground with a fatal heart attack during the Labor Day weekend. They pulled up his shirt and performed CPR in a desperate attempt to save him.
After pulling themselves together, the two managed to summon help the next morning by crossing more than five miles of rugged terrain in the Stanislaus National Forest without maps, camping equipment or experience.
Their father's body was airlifted from the desolate area about 10 miles north of Yosemite National Park to Sonora, where the boys were met by their mother.
Tuolumne County residents were still amazed yesterday at how the brothers showed bravery beyond their years.
"They were basically in a daze from what had happened to them," said Jim Scruggs, a deputy with the Tuolumne County Sheriff-Coroner's Department who helped recover the body. "But they were able to get their composure back. If it was just one kid, it might have been too much for him. But the two of them kept each other together."
Attempts to reach the youths or their relatives for comment were unsuccessful. But co-workers of Frank Brace, 43, described him as a good-natured man whose passions were his four children and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mr. Brace, a courier who was divorced from the boys' mother, saw them mostly on weekends and holidays, co-workers said. When they did get together, Mr. Brace liked to make every moment count, taking them on outings and participating in their Little League as an umpire.
Mr. Brace had been looking forward to the Labor Day trip and had no known health problems, said Gia Carlson, who runs the Pleasanton branch of Aero Delivery where Mr. Brace worked.
And the first day of the trip was idyllic enough, with the boys taking target practice with paint guns and BB guns near their campsite. On Sunday, the three hiked down a creek drainage to Relief Reservoir, about 60 miles east of Sonora. On the way back to camp, they apparently decided to take a shortcut up a steep grade, Deputy Scruggs said. Mr. Brace lagged behind the boys.
About 7 p.m., Jesse looked back to see his father stooped over with his hands on his knees. Mr. Brace then "just turned around, sat down and keeled over," Deputy Scruggs said. "He was dead when he sat down. The boys tried to do CPR as best they could, but there was no result."
The brothers found their way to their campsite in Lower Relief Valley, about a mile away through rough country. After sunset, the boys were still devastated, huddling and crying in their tent. But at daybreak Monday, they put on their boots and headed back to their trail head, leaving backpacks and canteens behind.
It's fairly unusual for children to find themselves alone, like Jesse and Isaac did, Deputy Scruggs said. Usually another adult or a group would be nearby.
"They basically wandered around there until they found someone up there," Deputy Scruggs said. "Luckily, it was a big weekend."
After hiking for about five miles, Jesse and Isaac found a man hunting deer and asked for his help. About 9 a.m., the two were taken to a summer home of Raymond Gada III of Modesto, who used a cellular phone to call authorities.
"They had to not only suffer their dad's loss but also hike out alone," Mr. Gada said. "It's rough country. The kids did really well. They're troupers."