Business card helps searchers find man in Uintas
July 22, 2006
To survive a night stranded in the Uinta Mountains Robert Woods drank rainwater from pinecones and stayed warm by lying in a mountain pool.
The 75-year-old was missing for nearly 24 hours after getting separated from his 45-year-old son Wednesday afternoon near Island Lake about 30 miles east of Kamas.
"[The son] said they parted for just a couple of minutes and I think that underscores just how rugged and dense this area is," Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said. "This area is very, very dangerous."
Woods was hiking at elevations in excess of 10,000 feet when the trail forked and the pair became separated, Woods said during a telephone interview Friday.
"My son went one way and I went the other," he said.
Volunteer searchers found the man around 11 a.m. Thursday more than a mile from where he was last seen. He was treated and released Thursday in Heber.
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"I lost the trail and once I got off the trail I was walking on granite and then it got dark," Woods said. "I was looking for a place where I could spend the night, so I crawled into the pond and brought my temperature up."
Shaun Rice, a member of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team, says the move likely prevented Woods from getting hypothermia.
Woods estimated the temperature of the pond to be 20 degrees higher than the air temperature that night.
Rain fell much of the evening as temperatures dropped to near 40 degrees, searchers say.
But while looking for the trail Wednesday, Woods posted his business card in the forest, folded in the shape of an arrow pointing the direction he had hiked.
Wasatch County residents Linden and Dennis Maxfield found the card while searching for Woods Thursday morning on horseback.
"As soon as we got that, we couldn’t get out to [Woods] but Dennis here got to the chopper and told them that we had his card and he was heading for Island Lake," said Linden Maxfield, who is Dennis’ father.
The pair assists the Sheriff’s Office with searches in the Uintas as members of the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue team.
"I called [the helicopter] on the radio," Dennis Maxfield said.
Woods was spotted from the Department of Public Safety chopper standing on a rock with a makeshift cane, Summit County searcher Kevan Todd said.
"He didn’t wave, he didn’t do anything," Todd said, adding that the helicopter landed and Woods was retrieved from the rugged, rocky terrain. "That’s kind of our payment and reward."
Woods was missing near where two women died in the Uinta Mountains after they didn’t return from a day hike in 2003.
Twelve-year-old Garrett Bardsley, of Utah County, hasn’t been found after he was lost while camping near the area with a Boy Scout group in 2004.
"There is not a day that goes by when you don’t think about Garrett," Todd said.
Meanwhile, Woods, who had expected to spend only a few hours fishing with his son, admits he was unprepared for the hazards of the Uintas.
"I knew I had a problem," he said. "I had nothing."
There were no matches so he used a sweatshirt and pine boughs to stay warm, Woods added.
"I’m never going to criticize the heat of Las Vegas again," he said, about his home in Henderson, Nev.
Searchers would have found Woods quicker had the man stopped walking after realizing he was lost, Edmunds said.
"He was moving around and that frustrates some of our search efforts," Edmunds said.
Woods insisted he knew where he was but lacked the energy and daylight necessary to return to the trailhead.
"I was never too concerned about myself, but I was thinking about my son he took me up there to have a good time and he goes and the old man gets killed off," Woods joked.