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Posted: 9/10/2010 1:44:36 PM EDT
Craig is a friend of mine. The info that he left with his neighbor saved his life. Moral of the story, if you go out alone make sure somebody knows where you are and when to expect you to return.

Man found in North Routt creek shares his story of survival

Steamboat Springs — For five nights, Craig Hor­lacher was propped with his torso on a rock and his legs in the shallow water on the banks of a North Routt County creek. His lower leg broken, Horlacher decided his best odds for survival rested on a plan to stay near enough to the creek to drink water and catch fish.

Horlacher, 57, broke his leg when he lost his footing on the rough bed of the stream as he was unhooking a fish Aug. 7. The Wheat Ridge resident told the story Thursday from a hospital bed at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver.

Horlacher said he had camped in a field the night before and was going to do a few hours of fishing before leaving Routt County.

Even though his car was only about a quarter of a mile away, Horlacher said he didn’t think he could make it up the steep banks near the confluence of the Tennessee Creek and Middle Fork of the Little Snake River. He had come to Routt County from the Front Range the day before to fish. He said he has been to Northern Colorado many times but not to that fishing spot.

Horlacher said he realized his leg break was serious and reckoned his best option was to stay by the water. He said that if he had moved, he risked a compound leg fracture — when the bone sticks through the skin — falling and hitting his head or falling into the river, where even the 18 inches of flow greatly increased the risk of hypothermia.

“I elected to do it the way I did it because I kept the torso above water, I was visible, I could catch fish, I had clean water,” he said. “It was probably also a good defense against animals.”

Horlacher said he spent his time caching rainbow trout and eating them raw or meditating with the sound of the flowing water.

“The days were quite mild and pleasant, so I was spending my time either throwing a line in or trying to reposition myself so I could be more comfortable with my broken leg,” he said.

He did have a couple of “space blankets,” the reflective emergency blankets, with him, and he used them at night when it got colder. He also sent pieces of the reflective fabric downstream to get attention, but he kept his backpack.

“One or two of the nights were fairly warm, but I had a few nights the wind was blowing and it was quite cold,” he said. “I would say at night I meditated. I made my decision about how I wanted to handle it, and I was confident in that.”

He said he was confident he would be found, but he considered the possibility that he might die.

“I initially thought it was unlikely, but then I became more reconciled to it,” he said.

Horlacher had left his itinerary with a neighbor, who went to the Wheat Ridge Police Department when she saw that Hor­­lacher had not returned for work as planned.

Wheat Ridge police sent the search notification to Moffat County on Aug. 10 but did not send the notification to Routt County until Aug. 11.

That night, a Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputy found Horlacher’s car, and Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers began searching the area. They continued until about 1:30 a.m. and resumed early Aug. 12, when they found Horlacher, delirious.

“Really, I was kind of conked out in the water,” he said. “I was finally lying down on the rocks, I was so tired.”

He had spent five nights injured in the creek.

Rescue teams used a system of ropes to pull Horlacher from the steep canyon into a waiting helicopter at the top of the ridge.

Horlacher said he doesn’t remember his fifth night in the canyon or his rescue. The next thing he recalls is the flight from the Yampa Valley Medical Center to Denver.

Horlacher said he was in intensive care for 17 days and expects to remain in the hospital for another week. He suffered some of the indications of hypothermia, including internal bleeding, but other than his leg, he said he has mostly recovered.

Money for searches

Like all rescues performed by Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers, there was no cost to Horlacher for the extraction.

Search and Rescue President Russ Sanford said all of the costs accrued during missions — from the fuel for the helicopter to the food for searchers on long missions — are paid for through the Search and Rescue budget.

The total budget of about $100,000 per year comes from a variety of sources, he said, including donations.

Sanford said the goal for tonight’s Search and Rescue fundraiser is $15,000 through ticket sales and raffles. The fundraiser, with food from the Steamboat Smokehouse, will be from 5 to 9 p.m. at Olympian Hall. Tickets are $15 and available at Ski Haus or from Search and Rescue volunteers.

The all-volunteer force has 28 members on the roster now, with five more going through training. Sanford said the goal is to have closer to 40 members, and information about volunteering will be available at tonight’s event.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 1:53:47 PM EDT
Tough guy, good head on him. Glad he made it out.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 2:01:29 PM EDT
Sounds like the did the #1 thing that saved his life,....when shit broke bad the stayed calm and thought it out. Great job!
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 3:52:39 PM EDT
Good for him. Hopefully he makes a full recovery.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 4:18:00 PM EDT
When my budget allows for it, I want to get a personal locator beacon (PLB) for situations like this.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 5:38:50 PM EDT
That is why I carry a 2 meter portable ham radio (with spare batteries) and a cell phone when I go into the backcountry alone. My son knows where I am going, when I am leaving and when I expect to return. He also knows what freqs to contact me on. It definitely won't be 5 days before someone comes looking.

I know people that go alone into the wilderness on a regular basis, but it only takes one slip or moment of inattention and there you are.

RS
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 6:35:07 PM EDT
Excellent article. A triumph of intelligence and attitude over circumstance. Very well done.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 6:37:53 PM EDT
I say he more endured his situation then survived it. Glad he's okay though.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 6:53:17 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Marty369:
Sounds like the did the #1 thing that saved his life,....when shit broke bad the stayed calm and thought it out. Great job!


Good thing he didn't try to move around....
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 7:08:33 PM EDT
Good job. I've been thinking more and more about getting a Spot 2 as I travel alone a lot. If nothing else it would reduce rescue cots and risks to the rescuers.
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 7:28:30 PM EDT
Right-On. Hardy Guy.
Those must have been some long nights.
Some rescues should not be charged for - this is one.
Good the neighbor followed up. He left his plan with the right person.

I travel solo in similar country frequently. I often and think about how a relatively small accident can be a major disaster when alone. It's easy to say to yourself "I just won't fall". But it's even easier to actually fall. .25 mile could be a galaxy away with an injury.

Was he able to keep his leg?

Thanks for the post.

-JC
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 8:09:16 PM EDT
The thing that really saved his life was that he left word with someone else about his itinerary - that finally lead to his rescue. People should always do this when going out into the backcountry, even if you are not going alone!
Link Posted: 9/10/2010 8:11:19 PM EDT
Originally Posted By ljh824:
I say he more endured his situation then survived it. Glad he's okay though.


Perhaps you've confused surviving with thriving?

Link Posted: 9/12/2010 6:24:12 PM EDT
I've just activated my "SPOT". My kids and a few hard friends will be notified if I'm in trouble. Have yet to use it.
M
Link Posted: 9/12/2010 7:33:57 PM EDT
Thanks for sharing. Glad he was able to live. Lots of other people would not have made it out.
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