Hiker fought to survive cold mountain
October 16, 2007
VAIL ” Despite hallucinating and hearing voices due to lack of food and sleep, lost hiker Jacob Gately managed to survive Sunday night in the Holy Cross Wilderness by burying himself in spruce needles for warmth.
“When it came down to it, it was instinct,” the 23-year-old Missouri man said Tuesday at Vail Valley Medical Center. “I wasn’t going to let the mountain have me.”
With his family gripping his shoulders, Gately tearfully recounted the two cold, lonely days and nights he spent lost in the mountains prior to his rescue Monday.
Gately, whose prognosis doctors say is “very good,” ran into trouble Saturday during the descent of the 14,005-foot Mount of the Holy Cross with his 24-year-old brother, Josh. The two lost sight of each other when Jacob went ahead in a boulder field at about 13,000 feet; he waited a few minutes for Josh to catch up, but when Josh didn’t appear or respond to his yells, Jacob panicked.
“I started running around the boulder field trying to find him because I thought he fell in a crack or something,” said Jacob, a sheet metal worker who has been working on a project in Colorado Springs for the past few months.
As night fell and snowfall began to increase ” by which time Josh had returned to their campsite near East Cross Creek and called authorities ” Jacob left the boulder field and lost the trail. After slipping on a rock and falling about 10 feet into a river, he decided to camp beneath a spruce tree and make a fire with a lighter he had been carrying.
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Wearing the clothing and sneakers he had dried by the fire, Jacob set off toward Half Moon Pass the next morning, not realizing until noon that he was heading in the wrong direction. He changed course and kept hiking until dark, when he made camp again ” but this time, his lighter was out of fluid and his pants were wet.
“There was no fire that night,” Jacob said. “I wore a shirt as pants that night, and I buried myself into spruce needles, and I just prayed a lot.”
In the meantime, his family was doing a lot of praying of their own. His parents, Jim and Jean Gately, flew to Colorado Monday morning to be with Josh and follow the rescue efforts. Though they were encouraged to learn that the Vail Mountain Rescue Group had found remnants of a campfire and footprints matching Jacob’s, they struggled to maintain hope.
“When I saw these mountains, I was like, ‘There’s no way,'” said Jean Gately, who during the ordeal clung to a medallion inscribed with the word “Believe.”
The same morning his parents arrived in Colorado, Jacob summoned the strength to keep hiking in spite of two sleepless nights and feet that were turning green inside icy sneakers. He free climbed the side of Half Moon Pass and, around noon, found the trailhead and the rescue team.
“My body just gave up,” Jacob said. “I fell to my knees.”
After two days in frigid temperatures and snow, Gately suffered mild hypothermia, fatigue, an electrolyte imbalance and minor frostbite on his feet.
“His frostbite is fairly superficial, and it’s unlikely he’ll lose any significant amount of tissue,” said Dr. Chip Woodland, chief medical officer for Vail Valley Medical Center. “It’s fairly amazing that he didn’t have more significant tissue damage.”
Gately will remain in the hospital overnight for additional treatment and observation. Once released, he plans to return to Missouri with his “elated” family.
“I’m just excited to have my brother back in one piece,” Josh Gately said. “He’s tougher than I thought.”