Injured trail runner crawls for 10 hours before rescue

Posted 2/26/20

A 26-year-old Seattle man who broke his leg while on the Duckabush River Trail crawled for more than 10 hours until he was rescued.

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Injured trail runner crawls for 10 hours before rescue

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A 26-year-old Seattle man who broke his leg while on the Duckabush River Trail crawled for more than 10 hours until he was rescued.

Joseph Oldendorf, who is a long-distance trail runner, was on his way back to the trailhead when he slipped on ice and injured his ankle at about 6 p.m. on Feb. 21, 10 miles from Duckabush River trailhead, according to a report from the volunteer Jefferson Search and Rescue team.

“I sat down to examine it, to see if it was just sprained, and it just flopped to the side,” Oldendorf said in an interview with Kiro 7 News.

He crawled for hours through the night, making his way through a rocky, dirty and snowy trail until his cell phone obtained a signal that he noticed when he received a text message.

“After a while, my knees were just raw,” Oldendorf told Kiro 7 reporters from his bed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he received treatment after his rescue. “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.”

He called 911 at about 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 22, letting Jeff Com dispatchers know where he was. Even then, Oldendorf continued to crawl down the steep trail in the dark, dragging his body over logs and fallen branches.

“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 toward them,” Oldendorf told Kiro 7 reporters.

When he was 4 miles from the trailhead, Oldendorf heard three members of the Brinnon Fire Department calling out to him.

According to a report from Brinnon Fire Chief Tim Manly, they arrived at the scene around 4 a.m., followed closely by four volunteers from Jefferson Search and Rescue.

“We splinted his leg and set him up with hot pads,” said Matt Stewart, a rescuer from Jefferson Search and Rescue. Oldendorf, who was wearing lightweight running clothes, had been moving all night, but after hours in freezing temperatures was cold as well as in pain.

Rescuers wrapped him in aluminum rescue blankets, put heating pads on his body and gave him tea to warm him up. Meanwhile, other volunteers headed up the trail to search for a potential landing spot for a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, which was dispatched to transport Oldendorf to Harborview Medical Center.

Not too far from where they had found Oldendorf, rescuers were able to put him on a wheeled stretcher and push him up the trail to where the helicopter could lower a rescue basket, Stewart said.

Oldendorf was flown to Harborview, where he was treated for his injuries. According to Susan Gregg, director of media relations at Harborview, Oldendorf was released from the hospital on Sunday evening.

“As of last report the patient was very thankful to rescuers, in good spirits, happy to be warm and in Seattle where he lives,” Chief Manly wrote on Facebook.

For volunteers with Jefferson Search and Rescue, this was a routine rescue operation, Stewart said. What made it exceptional was Oldendorf’s effort to crawl down the trail despite his injury.

“Trail running doesn’t have a high margin of safety if you’re out there alone,” Stewart said. “But he did a lot of things right.”

While trail runners typically pack light, having a cellphone with a full charge can be life-saving. Without it, Oldendorf would have had another 4-5 miles of crawling to get to the trailhead.

Oldendorf also stayed on the trail, something critical for rescuers to easily locate someone. He also responded immediately when he heard the firefighters calling out to him, letting them know they were getting close to him.

Oldendorf told Kiro 7 it was the thought of his family that motivated him to keep going.

“I don’t want my family to hear I died in the wilderness,” he said in the interview. “I think it’d be unbearable.”

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