Joseph Oldendorf, 26, was hiking the Duckabush Trail in Olympic National Park in northwest Washington on Friday when, at about 5 p.m., he slipped on the ice and cleanly fractured his tibia, just a few inches above the ankle. That left his ankle “flopping,” as he would later describe it. What’s more, the injury occurred in such a manner that the only way he could keep the broken limb from flopping “out of alignment” was if he was face down.
It was now getting dark, and temperatures were dropping, even as Oldendorf was several miles from the beginning of the trail, and outside of cellphone range. He began to fear that he would die if he stayed put, so he did the only thing he knew to do — he started crawling.
The ground was covered in snow and ice, beneath which were rocks, brush, and bramble. As Oldendorf crawled through it on his hands and knees, they began to get torn up from the experience. He said that he later had the idea to affix his shoes to his kneecaps, for whatever protection they would offer. It helped — albeit only a little, he said.
Incredible. Joseph broke his leg while running on a remote trail with no cellphone service this weekend. He crawled for hours before getting a cell signal — then kept crawling, about 10.5 hours total, until help arrived. He’s now recovering in Seattle. @KIRO7Seattle pic.twitter.com/dY6OmJ9hpf
— Michael Spears (@MichaelKIRO7) February 24, 2020
Though in excruciating pain, Oldendorf says that it was the thought of his family that kept him going.
“I don’t want my family to hear I died in the wilderness. I think it’d be unbearable,” he explained.
At about 12:45 a.m., seven or more hours after getting injured, Oldendorf heard his cellphone indicate that he’d received a text message. That meant that he was finally — and mercifully — within cell phone range. He dialed 911, but his ordeal was far from over. Unable to lay still — lest he risk hypothermia — he kept crawling, he told Seattle’s KIRO-TV.
“I stopped to lay down and stay warm, thinking they might be there relatively soon, but I was way too cold and there was no way I could do it without moving, so I just decided to keep moving towards [the rescuers],” he said.
At about 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, nearly 14 hours after getting injured, Oldendorf was finally rescued.
He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for the bone fracture, for hypothermia, and for the lacerations and bruises to his knees. Miraculously, he was only in the hospital for a short time before being released.
Firefighter Jerry Rule, who was in the first group of rescuers that located Oldendorf, suggested that the situation could have had a much worse ending.
“He’s a lucky guy,” Rule said of Oldendorf.