SIERRA CITY, Calif. — Two stranded teenage boys were plucked off a peak at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet by a California Highway Patrol helicopter amid gusty winds.

The boys had been climbing along a steep ridge before becoming stuck on a tiny plateau in the Sierra Nevada.

Austin Deschler, 16, said he and a 17-year-old friend had climbed to the spot to take a picture Saturday without realizing there was a sheer drop on the other side.

"As we went up there we made decisions to get up that made it so we couldn't get back," Deschler told Sacramento television station KXTV-TV. "We thought we could walk across the ridge, when we got up there and saw the other side it was heartbreaking — we actually almost cried ... That's when we realized, we're in trouble," Deschler said.

Hikers spotted the pair and called 911. The helicopter arrived as night was falling, but rescuers had nowhere to land near the boys.

In a dramatic rescue captured on video (, a harness was lowered to the boys from the helicopter, but it proved difficult with winds gusting over 20 mph.

"We had to make several attempts to get to them," said CHP Flight Officer David White, who led the rescue mission. "We lowered the hook a couple of times but the wind would blow us out of our position and we'd have to go back around and try it again."

Nearly four hours after they were first stuck, and with frightened parents watching, the boys were able to grab the hook from the helicopter and were hoisted to safety.

White said the rescue "was the most challenging that I've ever done in my 12 years in air operations."

Deschler called the experience "terrifying," and said he learned a key lesson.

"Stay on the trail," he said, "definitely stay on the trail."