A trail runner who broke his leg on a remote, snowy trail on the Olympic Peninsula over the weekend said he had to crawl for nearly seven hours to get cellphone service to call for help, then crawled several more hours until rescuers found him.
“I had to crawl on all fours and my knees -- it’s a rocky, snowy, dirty, wet trail -- and after a while, my knees were just raw,” said Joseph Oldendorf in an interview with KIRO 7 from his hospital bed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “So, I had the idea to put my shoes over them so I would at least have some traction and a little bit of protection, but they’re still really messed up."
Oldendorf, who has since been released from the hospital, said he crawled for about ten and a half hours after he slipped on ice and broke his leg, three inches up from the ankle, around 5:45 p.m. Friday. He said he was running back to the Duckabush trailhead, about 12 miles into a 20-mile run, when he was injured.
“I had to be facing chest down for it not to be flopping out of alignment,” said Oldendorf, describing his broken leg.
After crawling for hours in subfreezing temperatures, Oldendorf said he finally had the cellphone service to call for help around 12:30 a.m. Saturday and was located by rescuers on the ground close to 4:30 a.m.
“I had no idea how long it was going to be and I knew that I was still probably six miles down trail,” said Oldendorf. “I stopped to lay down and stay warm, thinking they might be there relatively soon, but I was way too cold and there was no way I could do it without moving, so I just decided to keep moving towards them.”
The 26-year-old said the thought of his family also kept him moving.
“I don’t want my family to hear I died in the wilderness,” said Oldendorf. “I think it’d be unbearable.”
A Coast Guard helicopter crew arrived around 7 a.m. and airlifted Oldendorf, who was hypothermic when found, to Harborview Medical Center for treatment.
“This is definitely a rugged part of the Olympic National Forest,” said Firefighter Jerry Rule, with the Brinnon Fire Department. “We actually found the patient about four and a half miles in, which is pretty unusual for a typical fire department to go in.”
Rule was in the group of rescuers who reached Oldendorf first.
“Doesn’t take much to take you out of the game up on those trails and by yourself,” said Rule. “He’s a lucky guy. We on our way out, after evacuating him by helicopter; we only ran into two other individuals and they were not going as far as we were.”
Video of the rescue is courtesy of Brinnon Fire Department Chief Tim Manly: