Injured hiker rescued after 40 hours describes ordeal

Leslie Drapiza, an experienced hiker from Oregon, went for a solo, 12-mile hike on Mount Defiance.

Associated Press

SILVERTON, Ore. — An injured hiker rescued this week after 40 hours in the woods during a snowstorm said she huddled under a tree for protection from the elements, slept in a ball to avoid hypothermia and conserved her cell phone battery in case she got service, a newspaper reported Friday.

Leslie Drapiza, an experienced hiker and physician from Silverton, Oregon, went for a solo, 12-mile hike of Mount Defiance on Super Bowl Sunday. The 42-year-old mother of three made good time to the 5,0110-foot summit and began her descent as snow fell, the Statesman Journal reported .

But with the snow and fallen trees, Drapiza couldn’t find the Starvation Ridge Trail which she had planned to follow back to her car. She crossed Warren Creek once and then decided to backtrack.

This same spot has gotten many people lost over the years. The area averages one or two rescue operations each year, officials said.

“It’s really hard to find that trail in the snow,” said Christopher Van Tilburg, a team leader for the Hood River Crag Rats search and rescue team. “If you don’t get on the ridge, people often start to follow the fall line downhill and end up in the Warren Creek drainage, which gets very thick, steep and dangerous.”

On her second crossing of Warren Creek, Drapiza slipped and fell, dropping down a steep embankment and falling into the creek gully.

“I fell so far that I remember being able to register, ‘Wow, I’m really falling,’” she said. “Then I hit something and came to a stop.”

Drapiza had sprained her ankle, and she decided to hike along Warren Creek instead of trying to scramble back up the embankment. As night fell, she huddled under a tree for protection from the snow and tried to keep warm.

“I zipped my shell up over my mouth to retain the warmth from my exhaled breath,” she said. “I kept wiggling my toes to keep the circulation going.”

Before she slept fitfully, she was able to get a text out to her mother giving her rough location and saying she was injured and likely needed a rescue.

The following day, Drapiza tried to make it back to the Mount Defiance Trail, but nothing looked familiar so she returned to Warren Creek — she knew if she followed it long enough, she’d see Interstate 84 as it winds through the Columbia River Gorge.

Then, she fell again and slammed into a tree that stopped her descent. She had a bloody nose and some bruising but was able to continue.

She saw a tiny ledge, big enough for two people, and made her way there to rest and wait. Trapped on that ledge, surrounded by cliffs and with no way to escape, she felt her fate slipping from her control.

“That was the only time I thought I might die,” Drapiza told the newspaper. “I’d run out of options. There was no way up or down from the ledge.”

She tried calling 911 one more time. It connected.

“They put me on hold, which drove me crazy because the battery was at like 1 percent, but when they answered they said, ‘We’ve been looking for you.’”

The phone call allowed her to give an exact location.

As darkness fell on Feb. 4, rescuers reached Drapiza and ultimately got her out of her precarious spot hours later.

Now, she’s safe at home and recovering.

In the days since the rescue, Drapiza reflected on the things that went wrong. She should have brought a shelter and emergency blanket, she said, in addition to her SPOT satellite messenger, external battery charger, paper map and basic compass. She also knows people will question her decision to hike alone.

“The truth is that I got complacent,” Drapiza said. “I’ve been going out so often that I got comfortable. I should have been better prepared.”

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