Posted: 4/20/2007 8:24:09 AM EST
Michael Ferraresi and Steve Yozwiak
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 19, 2007 04:29 PM
Lon McAdam of Apache Junction had hiked in the Superstition Wilderness, often alone, for 32 years without a hitch.
But on the third day of a nine-day trek this month, along a creek bed at the bottom of aptly named Rough Canyon - just after he had scrambled past the worst of the boulders - McAdam slipped.
"It was not like a big tumble. It was just a simple little trip," he said. advertisement
McAdam's left kneecap cracked against a protruding rock, leaving McAdam unable to walk, helpless and alone in the middle of nowhere, and with no one expecting him back home for six more days.
The 56-year-old building manager for Apache Junction's Gold Canyon Elementary School had a satellite phone, but it wouldn't work. During his fall, his water pouch busted, soaking the phone and leaving it dead.
"In 15 minutes, I broke my knee, drenched my phone and pretty much realized I was screwed," McAdam said.
He had talked to his wife, Toni, earlier that day, letting her know everything was going well.
"My biggest concern was there are bears out there," said McAdam, recovering this week at a Scottsdale hospital.
He had plenty of food in the wilderness, but no way of hoisting it up to store it in a tree, out of reach of wildlife.
The remote area near the Superstition Mountain's Reevis Ranch, about 30 miles east of Mesa, was littered with bear scat. McAdam said he knew the bears were close, so he spent much of his time gripping a can of bear repellent and yelling into the woods to frighten any animals away.
At the same time, McAdam knew he needed to get to a spot where a rescue helicopter could spot him in the narrow gorge.
"I was scrambling on my butt for three days," he said.
Only 100 feet away, he eventually made to a clearing where he set up a large blue tarp with an X on it. Then he waited.
"I knew I'd have to be patient."
Somehow, McAdam remained calm. He knew someone would eventually come looking for him. As always, he had left a detailed itinerary with Toni.
With his kneecap split in two, McAdam gathered himself, eased through the extreme pain and eventually reached for his camera.
McAdam, a photographer published in Arizona Highways magazine, passed the time doing something he knew well.
He took photos, including some of himself.
McAdam also had plenty of time to think. He thought of Aron Ralston, the Aspen, Colo., man who in 2004 cut off his right arm to save his life after an 800-pound boulder pinned him for five days in southern Utah's Blue John Canyon.
Relatives fear worst
Late on April 15, eight days after McAdam went exploring, Toni was feeling desperate. Her husband had not returned on time.
At daybreak on April 16, Toni called the Pinal County Sheriff's Office. She also called the satellite phone company to get a location of Lon's last phone call.
"I thought he was dead," Toni said, tears welling up again at the thought of something terrible happing to Lon.
Lon's 78-year-old mother, Georgianna McAdam, flew in from Anaheim, Calif. "I'm going to cry. This was so scary," she said, recalling the uncertainty while Lon was missing.
After six days injured and alone, McAdam saw a helicopter hovering over Rough Canyon.
He signaled it, reflecting the sun with a small, hand-held mirror. Rescue personnel saw it, and within hours Lon was reunited with his family.
Recovering from surgery this week in a hospital bed at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn, McAdam received a surprise visit from Brenda Farris, principal of Gold Canyon Elementary School. Farris carried a giant get-well card, signed by many of the school's students.
"We told them he broke his knee; kept it in as simple terms as possible," Farris said.
Will hike again
Reflecting on his ordeal, McAdam said he enjoyed the view of the Superstitions from the rescue chopper. With the unspoiled wilderness below, he realized the trip - despite the "little trip" that nearly killed him - was worth it.
"This was just for the pure adventure and experience," McAdam said. "I knew I was going to get out."
And he plans to go back. But next time, he said, he's bringing a personal locator beacon.
Lot of lessons to learn
Hydration bladders break......multiple water containers are your friend
Electronics dont like water...have plan B
Nothing beats a firearm...a can of bear spray aint a 44 mag!
Narcotics can be your friend...esp if alone and hurt
Mirrors are great!!!
PLB are getting cheaper and smaller and are waterproof. PLB + Sat phone would have been a great combo for him.
If you go solo, let someone know where you went and for how long you will be gone....that and a small mirror saved him
Despite the SHTF, dude was calm and did the right things.
We can learn from what he did wrong and from the things he did right.
He was pretty prepared since he:
Had bear mace,
Had a signal mirror,
Had a tarp with X on it,
Had plenty of food,
Left an itinerary with someone.
Think of how the outcome could have been had he not done these things to prepare.
I wonder why he couldn't hang his food. Since he seemed to have planned to do that beforehand, he should have had rope to throw over a tree limb. You can throw a rope while sitting; don't know why breaking his knee would have changed that.
"PLB are getting cheaper and smaller and are waterproof. PLB + Sat phone would have been a great combo for him."
What is a PLB?
Yea.. but part of the reason to go on a trip like that is the adventure. My climbing partner and I brought a GPS 1 time and then decided a map and compass was more the feel we were looking for. Takes some of the fun out of if you know you have a Sat phone in your pack.
This is stuff we go do evey year:
Echo Col - This was 9/11/2001 - we learned about 911 approx. a week later - eating a hamburger in town. The Col is in the dark area just left of the peaklet - mid top right.
Personal locator beacon. Onboard GPS finds where you are and then transmits your location to satellites and then on to SAR.
If you have filed a trip/float/flight plan with NOAAs website, they can literally have your lat/long and info about your trip in less than 10 minutes. After a phone call to your contact # to rule out a false alarm, they can be spinning rotors to drag your sorry butt out of the fire pretty dang quick.
I agree with the adventure part, but when solo hunting or a few miles offshore with my family, I like backup plans.
that right there makes or breaks you. Keeping the right miindset and attitude goes a looong way.
We live in east Mesa, Az, about a 25 minute drive from where he probably parked his vehicle. I know that is a really rugged chunk of wilderness, although it is just beyond what has now become the outer edge of greater Phoenix. I know there are mountain lions there, and all the nasty venomous desert reptiles and bugs. I know that a lot of strange people go there and a LOT of strange things happen there.
But I didn't know about the BEARS!
Hey, not all Bears are bad bears.... In fact, some of us are quite silly!
They're mainly up in the higher altitudes in the Superstitions. There's some on 4 peaks, too. They really don't come down. They aren't big, as bears go.
that is an interesting tale