SEATTLE -- A long-distance trail runner who broke his leg while traversing a remote Olympic Peninsula trail crawled toward help for 10 hours on increasingly torn-up knees.
From a bed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Joseph Oldendorf told KIRO-TV he crawled for nearly seven hours in below-freezing temperatures to get to a place where his cellphone had service and then crawled several more hours until rescuers arrived.
“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,” Oldendorf, 26, told the TV station. “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 said he was about 12 miles into a 20-mile run on Duckabush Trail at about 5:45 p.m. Friday when, as he ran back toward the trailhead, he slipped on ice. The fall broke his leg near his ankle, and he saw his foot flopping at a weird angle.
Because he had no cell service, he knew he likely wouldn’t be rescued if he stayed put, he said. So he crawled until just after midnight, when he reached an area with service and called for help, he said. But that wasn’t the end of his journey.
"I had no idea how long it was going to be, and I knew that I was still probably six miles down trail. 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," Oldendorf told KIRO.
Rescuers found him at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday, warmed him up and splinted his ankle. Around 7 a.m., he was hoisted into a Coast Guard helicopter and flown to Harborview, where he was treated for hypothermia along with his broken leg.
Oldendorf had been wearing "only light running clothes," according to a Sunday Facebook post from Jefferson Search and Rescue, which had four volunteers on the scene.
"Trail running is a lightweight endeavor with little clothing and equipment available to a solo runner if something goes wrong," the search-and-rescue agency wrote. "Carrying a charged cellphone, and displaying incredible grit and determination to self rescue, likely prevented more serious injury in this case."
Oldendorf told KIRO the thought of his family kept him going.
"I don't want my family to hear I died in the wilderness," he said. "I think it'd be unbearable."
Jerry Rule, a firefighter with the Brinnon Fire Department, told the TV station that Oldendorf had been in a particularly remote and rugged part of the Olympic National Forest.
“Doesn’t take much to take you out of the game up on those trails and by yourself,” Rule told the station. “He’s a lucky guy.”