Boulder hiker kept the faith
the denver post
Although Roy Knoedler was stuck at more than 12,500 feet on the side of a mountain with night setting in – and had a broken arm, a possible concussion and blood pouring into his eyes – the 64-year-old hiker said he never questioned that he would make it down alive.
“I was convinced that it wasn’t my time,” the Boulder resident said. “For some reason, I had faith that I was going make it out.”
Part of the reason for that faith might have been that Knoedler was not alone on Kit Carson Peak, a Fourteener in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado.
The veteran climber was wearing mini-crampons but slipped on some unseen ice and slid 50 feet before hitting a rock about 4 p.m. July 7. Luckily for him, a group of six hikers below heard his cries for help.
Craig Reynolds, 52, and Jesse Houghtalen, 25, climbed up to Knoedler and found him crumpled against a boulder. Knoedler said he blacked out after hitting the rock but quickly regained consciousness.
“The rocks around him looked like someone had dumped a can of red paint on them,” Reynolds said. “If he moved around at all, he could have started tumbling down the mountain.”
Reynolds and Houghtalen, residents of Terre Haute, Ind., called 911, checked Knoedler’s pulse and helped him into a more secure position. As they worked, Reynolds said reality began to set in. “When I saw him I realized, uh, we’re going to be here for a while,” he said.
Reynolds, who worked as an emergency medical technician 25 years ago, looked at the wound on Knoedler’s head.
“Whenever I’m driving, I always stare at roadkill to practice getting past the gore, and this was my test to see if that really worked,” Reynolds said. “I carefully brought up his hat and saw a laceration from the top of his forehead down to his eyebrow, with the skin on both sides hanging forward. I could see the skull tissue and blood pooling at the bottom.”
Reynolds bandaged the wound, and the three men waited for help to arrive. Reynolds said helicopters flew by about 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. but could not find a place to land.
“After seeing that second helicopter fly away, Roy began to despair, but we said, we have to deal with this,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds and Knoedler are veteran hikers of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners: Reynolds has conquered 35 and Knoedler 39. Knoedler had brought Malar blankets, rain pants and warm clothes, which Reynolds and Houghtalen used to cover him. Also, they used Knoedler’s backpack as a makeshift sleeping bag.
Reynolds said they never questioned whether they would stay with Knoedler all night.
“That’s just what you do,” he said. “That’s the responsibility when you go into the mountains. If someone’s hurt, you help them.”
“It was just one night,” he added.
At 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, responders from the Colorado National Guard arrived in a Chinook helicopter. Knoedler was lifted off the mountain and taken to St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, where he was treated for a broken arm and nose, multiple facial fractures, a skull fracture, a cut in his forehead and a broken eye socket. He was released Sunday.
“I’m actually feeling pretty good, surprisingly,” he said. “I can’t thank everybody enough who helped pull me through this.”
Knoedler, who has no plans to give up mountain climbing, was well-prepared for last week’s trip, but he said it would have been safer to hike with a partner. He added that he could have worn the helmet he left behind in his car and carried an ice ax.
“It only takes one bad step,” he said, “and I happened to have made it.”
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