Man Injured While Hiking Crawls More Than 5 Miles on Knees to Get Help: 'He's a Lucky Guy'
The sun was just setting when Joseph Oldendorf slipped on ice while running and fell on the remote Duckabush River Trail in Washington’s Olympic National Park on Friday.
The avid trail runner knew right away that something was wrong: He heard his ankle snap, he told CBS affiliate KIRO, and when he checked to see the damage, saw his ankle “flopped to the side like it was untethered.”
“I knew I was kind of screwed,” the 26-year-old said.
With no cell phone service available to call for help, Oldendorf knew that his only chance at survival was to make it back to where he’d seen fellow trail runners earlier, some five miles away — and that because of his injury, the only way to get there would be to crawl.
And so he did, for more than 7.5 hours and five to six miles before he was able to get help.
“I don’t want my family to hear I died in the wilderness,” he told KIRO from his hospital bad. “I think it’d be unbearable.”
Oldendorf’s woes began around 5 p.m. on Friday, when he injured himself and began crawling along the trail in sub-freezing temperatures, the Brinnon Fire Department said in a statement.
“You don’t really get a lot of cell service out there, so I wasn’t counting on my phone ever working,” he told KIRO. “I just figured, this is my only chance, I’m going to crawl all the way there.”
Dressed only in light running clothes, Oldendorf braved the cold and tied his shoes around his knees to protect them, he said.
“I had to crawl on all fours and my knees — it’s a rocky, snowy, dirty, wet trail — and after a while, my knees were just raw,” he told the outlet. “So, I had the idea to put my shoes over them so I would at least have some traction and a little bit of protection, but they’re still really messed up.”
Oldendorf crawled like that for hours, until finally, around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, he heard his phone ping.
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Once he realized he finally had enough service, he called for help; the Brinnon Fire Department said that they received his call at 12:33 a.m.
Even though he knew help was on the way, Oldendorf told KIRO he had no idea when his rescuers would arrive, and assumed he was still about six miles downtrail, so he continued to crawl for about four more hours.
“At approximately 4am the patient was located, treated and moved to an open area where a [U.S. Coast Guard] helo hovered overhead and hoisted the patient to the aircraft,” the Brinnon Fire Department wrote.
According to Jefferson Search and Rescue, Oldendorf crawled about five to six miles total from his point of injury, and rescuers eventually found him “by voice.”
He was treated on the scene for exposure to cold and a broken ankle, the search and rescue team said, before he was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he lives.
Brinnon Fire Department Firefighter Jerry Rule told KIRO that the area was certainly “rugged,” and that rescuers found Oldendorf about four-and-a-half miles in from the trail.
“Doesn’t take much to take you out of the game up on those trails and by yourself,” Rule said. “He’s a lucky guy.”