August 28, 2020
Injured Hiker Stranded for Two Weeks in New Mexico Forest Found Alive
Ever wonder how long you could last if alone and injured in the backcountry, unable to get yourself out? A man in the Santa Fe National Forest found out the hard way earlier this month when he was rescued after spending two weeks without shelter, stranded way off trail near a stream.
A man named John Utsey and his children were hiking in the area of Santa Fe Baldy, on the Windsor Trail. As the family called out to each other to remain in ear shot, Utsey heard a man’s voice crying for help. He traced the calls by shouting back and forth with the voice until he finally found the man, lying amid his few possessions, in obvious distress, a quarter mile off trail at the bottom of a steep hill.
“I’m not sure he had more than a day or two left,” Utsey said. “His lips were all chapped to the point they were bleeding. His tongue was swollen; he was super gaunt and skinny. I was like this guy really needs help.” The family gave the hiker their food and water, noted his position with GPS, and hiked out to find help. At the trailhead they called 911, a SAR team arrived, took the GPS location, and off they went to bring the man to safety.
Sounds like a happy ending. But things were just getting started.
The SAR team couldn’t locate the hiker after 8 hours. They called off the search, and when Utsey checked in to see what the man’s status was, he was overcome with empathy for the guy. The next morning he hiked out, found the man still lying there, then repeated the process to hike back out, call for help, and wait. This time Utsey led the rescuers to the stranded hiker himself.
The man, an experienced hiker in his 50s, had been without food for at least a week. He’d crawl to a nearby stream to drink, then crawl away from it to seek warmer ground, but that was the extent of his ability to self rescue. He’d injured his back and was unable to walk or even stand.
“Never had we found somebody who had been out for that long,” said Nathan Garcia of the Santa Fe Fire Department. “It’s hard to say. The human body can do some amazing things sometimes but I don’t think he had very much left in him. He seemed kind of at the end when we did actually encounter him. He had the will to survive for sure.”
The hiker is recovering at a hospital in Santa Fe.
Photo: Thomas Shahan/Wikipedia