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Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend...
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David Affleck
Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 08:36:47 MDT Print View

Had an interesting experience last weekend. Me, my Wife and two kids were spending the day in the Needles district of Canyonlands. Our plan was to drive the Elephant Hill Jeep trail and take the short walk to Chesler Park via the Joint trail.

About an hour into the Jeep trail and halfway to the Joint trail, we ran into a group of park service Jeeps and park rangers. While waiting for one of their Jeeps to be moved so we could get by, I chatted with the ranger who appeared to be in charge and learned that they were just wrapping up and calling off a search for a missing backpacker. Apparently, they had gotten some new information indicating the missing man was no longer in the area.

So, on our way to the Joint trail we went. Once arrived, we started the walk to Chesler park. My Wife and 17 year old Son in the lead, me and my 9 year old Daughter lagging a bit behind.

Only a short distance up the trail, I saw my Wife standing up ahead, looking back at me, looking as if she had just seen a ghost and obviously wanting me to get up there pronto! As I approached, I saw the source of her concern - the body of a dead man wearing a backpack sprawled out across the trail in front of her.

Just as I got to her side, the dead man turned his head to look at us. Whew! That was a relief! His unatural looking position and stillness had us all fooled for a minute there, we really did think he was dead.

As it turns out, he was very much alive and very happy to see us! And we were happy to see him too. It was the missing backpacker the rangers had been searching for. A very nice young man. To make a short story shorter, he had been out for a full week, bushwhacking off trail nearly the whole time, but had taken ill some days earlier. Nasty stomach bug of some sort, unable to hold down anything. He had run out of water, failed to find anymore until just the night previous, but still continuing to vomit so not able to keep even the water down. He was quite dehydrated. And despite still having plenty of food in his pack, had chosen not to eat for about 48 hours when we found him. He had also left behind much of his gear, including his tent a few days earlier to "lighten his load". He was sick and exhausted to the point that he simply couldn't walk anymore. Indeed, he wasn't even able to sit up with his pack on when we found him. I believe he would have lain right there in the open that night, wearing only a light t-shirt, with snow on the way that night...

Anyway... We got him back to the Jeep and started him slowly on some water, then drove him the two hours back to the Elephant Hill trail head. There we found the same large group of park rangers preparing to resume the search - apparently they had found out their earlier information about him leaving the area wasn't correct. They went right to work on him, his vitals were worse than I would have guessed, dangerously low BP etc.

All is well that ends well though and he was/is just fine. I don't know whether we saved his life or simply spared him further suffering. Both he and the rangers seemed to think we saved his life, but having survived a couple of uncomfortable situations in the past myself, I'm not so sure he wouldn't have survived another day and been found by the rangers or someone else.

Regardless, my kids thought the whole deal was just about the coolest thing ever, my Wife too, for that matter - she decided almost immediately after finding him that we should adopt him, LOL! Me, I just like happy endings .

- Dave

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 08:45:11 MDT Print View

Awesome. I spent last week in Moab, and I don't think I'd want to get lost in Needles. Or sick. A lot of us hike solo, and I'm not sure we ever really think about a debillitating stomach virus like that.

Dave -
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Up there
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 08:58:16 MDT Print View

Good Karma is coming your way!

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 09:38:40 MDT Print View

"my kids thought the whole deal was just about the coolest thing ever, my Wife too, for that matter"


Ceph Lotus
(Cephalotus) - MLife

Locale: California
Wow! on 03/22/2012 09:49:35 MDT Print View

Wow, what a story! Congrats on your rescuing him. I really do think you saved his life.

Edited by Cephalotus on 03/22/2012 09:50:17 MDT.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 09:54:47 MDT Print View

Very cool David. Whether or not he had another day in him, he was exceptionally fortunate you found him. Good on ya!

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 09:57:00 MDT Print View


It is known as hikers helping hikers. It is what this community is all about.

We all applaud your family's willing assistance to this young man.

Your wife and kids are right,

"Regardless, my kids thought the whole deal was just about the coolest thing ever, my Wife too, for that matter - she decided almost immediately after finding him that we should adopt him..."

So when is the adoption going to be finalized? ;-)

Party On,


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 10:14:45 MDT Print View

He may or may not have had another day in him, but when your kidneys don't have enough water to function, bad things can start to happen. And, if it was your kid - passed out on a trail in a t-shirt with snow on the way, would want him to spend the night like that? Even if he was healthy, much less dehydrated, underfed, underclothed, delirious, and sick?

Good on you - what a great family adventure / story / lesson.

I doubt you'll have any trouble pushing a "Be Prepared" or "Plan Ahead" message on your kids now!

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 10:57:27 MDT Print View

Well Done, David, et al!

Chris Kopp
(ckopp) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 11:16:43 MDT Print View

Thank you for sharing! This was a great read to start off the day!

Robert Mak
(blmac) - F
lesson learned? on 03/22/2012 11:29:00 MDT Print View

Is it possible to speculate a little about what happened to the poor fellow? I'm trying to figure out the lesson learned of this episode. Does it seem apparent that he contracted giardia? It might make me revisit my slightly cavalier approach to water treatment knowing that I could end up dying from an episode. Is there an antibiotic medication to carry to remedy this?

Nigel Healy
(nigelhealy) - F

Locale: San Francisco bay area
Re: lesson learned? on 03/22/2012 11:49:34 MDT Print View

I was thinking the exact same thing. What made him ill, was it water he had on the way. Usually if you're on your own and started out not feeling ill and bring water, water-filter / boil your water, its pretty hard to get ill.

Also, what was his backout plan, his shortest path he knew at all time if he had an issue, or encountered someone with an issue? I'm usually more thinking about falling/accident causes then internal problems.

I once drunk from a mountain stream thinking clean and later saw a dead sheep up river, and was ill for 3 days. That lesson learned just once.

I once fell and lost a lot of blood and was delirious by time I got to civilisation, only need to do that once to always have your backout plan. One reason to do a loop around based when on one's own, a lot of distance away from it all but always a much shorter path back when you need to. Skill, I got the scar all down my left leg as a reminder to not be so dumb.

David Drake
(DavidDrake) - F

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Re: lesson learned? on 03/22/2012 12:01:11 MDT Print View

Good on you and your family, David, for being there when the guy needed it.

Re: bad water. It's always been my understanding that giardia has a longer incubation period than would account for this hiker's symptoms. Not sure about disease from a dead animal. Maybe the problem here was more basic, eg, poor personal sanitation?

Regardless, a lesson I'll keep in mind. I think about injury (esp. falling), exposure, and getting lost as the big risks to manage hiking solo. I've quit treating water if I'm sure of the source. But I'd think twice now about heading out on my own if I had any clue stomach flu was coming on.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Meds on 03/22/2012 12:12:15 MDT Print View

This is a god reason to carry a wide spectrum antibiotic and some good electrlyte powder like Cyto Max, which helps you absorb fluids B/C it's isotonicaly balanced.

D'ya think the guy will buy a SPOT beacon before his next solo backpack???

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
lesson on 03/22/2012 12:16:42 MDT Print View

the most important lesson IMO is that the person had no way of contacting help when immobilized

while you can take preventative measures, you cant prevent everything .. you can get hurt from "bad water" (i guess), falling off a trail, a hungry bear, or any myriad of other ways ... you cant predict all possibilities

what you can predict is, should you get into trouble, you may need to be located and extracted

now i know that its "unethical" for some people, or ruins someones peace and quiet, and subject to abuse ... but some kind of communication device will save everyone time and money as long as you arent trigger happy ... less risk to rescuers as they dont have to search for yr azz, lower costs for SAR budgets, better chance of em findng you, etc ...

despite the obvious potential for abuse, most SAR folks will tell you to take a method to communicate out with you ... they prefer not to waste time looking for you

Kendall Clement
(socalpacker) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
RE: RE: RE: "Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend..." on 03/22/2012 12:25:16 MDT Print View

My hat's off to you and your family David. And, what an awesoem ecperience for you and your kids.

As Joe mentioned above, "A lot of us hike solo, and I'm not sure we ever really think about a debillitating stomach virus like that."

I'm one of those who hikes solo almost always. I never consider a stomach virus, but even though I'm athletic my lower back goes out on me about 2 times a year. One of my biggest fears is that it happens on the trail. I carry Vicodin and muscle relaxers in my first aid kit just in case, but those meds make me kind o' loopy and getting out would still be painful. If that were to happen I hope that I would be fortunate enough to run into good people like you and your family.

Congrats to you guys for being in the right place at the right time!

Edited by socalpacker on 03/22/2012 12:26:31 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
eric - what communication device works in the wilderness? on 03/22/2012 12:53:46 MDT Print View

eric - what communication device works in the wilderness?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: eric - what communication device works in the wilderness? on 03/22/2012 13:00:10 MDT Print View

PLB .... dont press the big red button until after youve been a bear chew toy ;)

cell phone if you have reception if you dont have anything else ... theres been enough stories about people being saved by cells

Edited by bearbreeder on 03/22/2012 13:01:05 MDT.

Michael Cockrell

Locale: Central Valley, Lodi-Stockton, CA
Re: I found one also on 03/22/2012 14:32:52 MDT Print View

Sounds like a new string of stories developing . . . here's mine:

Was first permit into the Desolation Wilderness (east of Lake Tahoe,CA) one spring morning from Loon Lake. Unbroken spots of snow on trail, here-n-there deer tracks. Ahhhhh! First human of the year! Yeah!

Hiked all day, then set camp. In morning, made up a nice breakfast . . . out of bushes 'pops a human!' . . . he was in tattered motorcycle gear, including boots. He was tired, hungry, lost, sore, etc.

His story?: Him & friend off for day of off-road motorcycling near the wilderness border; no survival gear, no map, no extra food, etc. He dumped his bike trying to cross Rubicon River, they could not retrieve due to water depth, so friend took off to get his truck. As they each had their on trucks, his "friend" abandoned him, and DID NOT REPORT!

The biker decides to hike out to try to find parking lot. Dark falls, but he keeps hiking, through streams, snow drifts, brush, etc. Finally, just before dawn (a little light) he somehow, by pure luck, stumbles out of brush and onto the trail/my camp!

"Surprised! to see me" . . . me surprised to see him! He tells me his story. I asked how he found his way? Says' "I followed the North Star" . . and points. "Ah!" I say . . . "That's Venus, you would have just keep heading West into the Wilderness! If not stumble on the road from Ice House to Loon Lake.

He was shivering, dehydrated, and his feet sore. Had him take off motorcycle boots—feet were TORN UP from hiking in them.

I dressed his feet, had him change into my spare clothing, wrapped my sleep bag around him, feed him (a lot), and hot tea. After he recovered, I packed up my camp, and we . . . ever so slowly . . . hiked out to his car that was in same lot as mine.

He changed into his own clothes, and I gave him more food/drink. I decided trip was over, so started packing.

I told him to drive to the Ranger Station, report his cycle in the Rubicon River, and notify his family.

When I stopped at the Ranger Station . . . yeah . . . he did not stop to report! So I did, gave them the vehicle description & license plate.

Shorter trip, but the memory was well worth it!

Just get to know the difference between planets & stars!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Meds on 03/22/2012 15:38:29 MDT Print View

This would not have been giardia. That has a 10 day incubation period, and is unlikely to cause those symptoms.

It is very likely that he had simple gastro. The timing is right, the symptoms are right. I suggest (but obviously cannot prove) that he had not washed his hands after going to the toilet, and had infected himself. Young male ...

> This is a good reason to carry a wide spectrum antibiotic
NO! An antibiotic is totally pointless here. All he needed to do was rest and flush the bug out of his system. Needless treatment with antibiotics can be seriously harmful to the person concerned and to the community.


Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/22/2012 15:54:28 MDT Print View

Great story! (Michael's, too!) This helping one another out out there is one of the things that I simply love about backpacking. And it's universal, too. I've seen it everywhere I've hiked in the world.

Having on several occasions almost died, too (the first time when I was walking solo the alpine regions of Japan for the first time and was caught by a fierce, unbelievably strong storm that appeared out of nowhere... and three elderly men just happened to walk by and saved me. The second and third times when I accidentally took too much insulin and didn't have sufficient food to cover it... the first time I just dug out every scrap of garbage I was carrying and scraped together enough carbohydrates to make it down the mountain, the second time an angel in the form of a elderly French lady had enough chocolate on her to stave off the hypoglycemia) and several other occasions helped people out of dangerous situations in the mountains, the two stories above really pluck a chord in me.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Meds on 03/22/2012 15:56:00 MDT Print View

"NO! An antibiotic is totally pointless here. All he needed to do was rest and flush the bug out of his system."

And if you can find water, stay next to it. You can live a long time in the desert with shade and water. Also you would not be leaving your gear behind as he did.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
And another one on 03/22/2012 16:35:29 MDT Print View

Here's one more in the vein of Michael's that happened to friends during a late-winter Trans-Sierra.

They were skiing along in the drainage to the west of Mammoth ski resort. And found a downhill skiier. He'd gotten turned around on top and skied off the wrong side of the mountain. He knew he was out-of-bounds but didn't realize he was on the wrong side of the mountains. He figured if he kept skiing down, he'd reach the parking lot, area roads, or, heck, Highway 395.

They stopped then and there, made camp a little early, fed him, watered him, stuffed him in between their sleeping bags that night, fed him the next morning and encouraged him to abandon his downhill skis (he was reluctant) and start for the ridge at daybreak so he might make it before evening.

He probably made it, but there's nothing in that drainage - if he hadn't happened on them (in those pre-cell, pre-sat days), he'd have been a goner for sure.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Meds on 03/22/2012 16:45:21 MDT Print View

> This is a good reason to carry a wide spectrum antibiotic
> NO! An antibiotic is totally pointless here.

Agreed - if Roger is right (and it totally fits the profile), or even if it was Giardia - that's not a bacteria, so antibiotics don't help with a anaerobic protozoan parasite.

But "simple gastro" could have been prevented in so many ways - good water and soap hand washing or a spot of alcohol hand sanitizer. Ever since doing a 15-person, 16-day Colorado River trip with rigorous santitation practices and NO problems (despite all the gyrations and handling of "The Groover", I've been bringing along the hand sanitizer.

IMNSHO, the biggest infectious risk during a well-run trip should be from having lots of sex.

David Affleck
Re: Re: Re: Meds on 03/22/2012 17:14:32 MDT Print View

Great, interesting comments from everyone. Thank you!

And, my guess, at the time, was a "hand washing" issue. No way to know for sure, ever, though.

His decision making had obviously begun to deteriorate, too. He made a series of decisions in the 48-72 hours before we found him that, with hindsight, I think he'd have done differently. He would have suffered less and increased his chances of rescue and/or self extraction greatly by doing a few things differently. Like, for instance, the last decision he made, which was to leave a parking area next to a Jeep trail with picnic tables and a pit toilet, when he didn't have the strength to make it 700 yards before collapsing. Or, as just mentioned, staying by the potholes he had found the night before. There were other decisions made before these that all kind of piled up on him. And, I should note, my impression of him was that he was actually a very intelligent young man.

But I think it is pretty normal for most people in that kind of condition and that much stress to start making poor choices though. Very intelligent people included. And, for me, that's the really important lesson to take home from this - when you find your tail in a crack (and I have...) - slow down and THINK. The kids and I have had several discussions about this already and that is the theme I'm trying to drive home to them.

- Dave

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: on 03/22/2012 17:24:11 MDT Print View

Wow!! Amazing... and wonderful!!

Edited by ben2world on 03/22/2012 17:25:27 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Intelligence isn't wisdom on 03/22/2012 17:24:18 MDT Print View

> a very intelligent young man.

We were all once very intelligent young men. Who did stupid things sometimes.

Close calls, reflection, and the fuller development of our frontal lobes in our late 20's enable those that survive to act more carefully in the future.

I have those kinds of discussions with my kids in the hopes that the consicous application of their intelligence might get them through their teens and early 20s with relative few and relative minor trips to the ER.

That and practice, practice, and practice. They don't think about putting on their seat belt - they just do it. They shouldn't consider whether to treat water or wash their hands - they should just do it out of habit.

jody carter
(finbox) - F
I hike solo all the time on 03/22/2012 17:34:20 MDT Print View

And I always Cary one of these, works great. Fishing 100+ miles offshore has taught me to always have one on your person (EPIRB for the boat)

Brent Mahan

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
"People in the woods are always the nicest people" on 03/23/2012 07:52:12 MDT Print View

Wow. Great stories. I'm always proud to be a hiker and be a part of the "outdoors community." I'll be careful to pack extra medicine in my next first-aid kit on a long trip.

I was out backpacking in Fall Creek Falls State Park here in Tennessee last weekend. When I was nearing the end of my hike and was back to the crowded parts of the park I passed a group of overweight teens trying to use the self timer to take a picture of their group on a rock (wasn't working well). I stopped and asked them if they'd like me to take their picture.

It was a very simple thing to take a person's picture, but the response I got I think pretty much sums it up:

"Thanks! People in the woods are always the nicest people."

I told them I completely agreed with them, took their picture, smiled and went on my way.

Edited by thenerb on 03/23/2012 07:54:21 MDT.

steven franchuk
It might not have been an infection on 03/23/2012 21:41:22 MDT Print View

The symptoms he had could have been caused by many different things other than an infection. The vomiting could have been caused by dehydration, electrolight imbalance, dowl obstruction, Cardio vascular problems and many other issues. Also when you are dehydrated and suddenly have water available most people want to take several big swallows of water, which will cause you to vamit it all up. Instead you should take only take very small drinks (1/4 cup or so) and wait several minutes before the next drink. This will allow you to keep it down and absorb it.

Canyonlands is a desert environment. Given the lack of water sources he could have easily gotten slightly dehydrated hiking between water sources. Being slightly dehydrated for days could have slowly lead to an electrolyte imbalance and or bowl problems. If that was the case one bad day of very little to no water intake could have made his slight chronic dehydration much worse. Once that occurred he started to vomit when drinking or eating which would have made the dehydration worse. At that point he is loosing much of the water he is carrying simply because he isn't keeping it down. Once he reached this point the only solution is to stop at a good water source and stay there until your fully rehydrated. He didn't do that.

We don't know what the doctors found. Simply saying he had bad water and got an infection is is an easy answer which could easily be wrong.

obx hiker
(obxcola) - MLife

Locale: Outer Banks of North Carolina
Found a "missing" backpacker last weekend... on 03/23/2012 22:18:41 MDT Print View

There may be a particularly long lasting and contagious form of Gastro-E going around this year.

Check this current thread:

Which is admittedly in Virginia as opposed to Utah,; but something has been making the rounds on the OBX and infecting people who don't "normally" get G.E. and it also seems to last longer than the usual 48-72 hours.

These things seem to pass coast to coast a lot faster these days.

I'm curious where this guy was hiking off trail if he was found on the trail between the parking area off Devils Lane south of Chesler Park and the beginning of the Joint, which is what fits the description. Had he been hiking west towards the river in the Grabens/Red Lake area? or maybe south along Butler wash towards Beef Basin or Bobby's Hole? You can't really hike off trail to the east or north of that location except a short ways into Virginia Park. Also there's water north and east..... lots of water in Elephant Canyon a couple miles east

Just curious.