Maine woman survives 4 days in Garfield County desert

Published: Sunday, April 29 2012 9:07 p.m. MDT

Victoria Grover, 59, of Wade, Maine, is alive and OK after spending four days with a broken leg and no food in a remote hiking area in Garfield County. She was rescued Saturday, April 28, 2012.

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CEDAR CITY — Victoria Grover is an avid outdoorswoman with survival skills and medical training.

Even with that background, officials say the 59-year-old woman is lucky to be alive.

Grover, of Wade, Maine, is recovering at Valley View Medical Center after surviving four days in a remote area near Boulder, Garfield County, with a broken leg, few supplies and very little food before she was rescued Saturday.

She also suffers from Type 2 diabetes.

"How she survived is beyond me," Garfield County sheriff's spokeswoman Becki Bronson said.

Police say Grover journeyed out for a day hike Tuesday from the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch to visit the Sand Creek area. She wanted to visit Sand Creek because she had been there 40 years ago for an outdoor survival experience while attending BYU, Bronson said.

"I wanted to come down and kind of spiritually reconnect with all the nifty things that I learned," she said, talking to reporters from her hospital bed Sunday.

It became too dark for Grover to make it back to her car, so she decided to spend the night in the desert.

The next morning, Grover broke her leg while jumping off a 4-foot ledge. Officials say the break was severe and will require surgery.

Grover was able to make it back to Sand Creek to drink water, but other than a few light snacks, she had no food and no shelter, Bronson said.

"There were several times that I asked myself, 'Was I scared, was I scared?' I really wasn't scared until I stopped shivering, and that's when I got scared. Because I thought if somebody doesn't find me pretty soon, I'm going to die of hypothermia," she said.

Grover said she made sure she never laid down on the valley floor because of how cold it would get at night. So she would sit up during the night and do all she could to stay awake. Her biggest concern was "to keep myself warm, which was the biggest threat, I really had to stay sitting up."

On the third day, she saw the search helicopter fly overhead. She said she waved but the helicopter didn't see her. Grover says she wishes she would have thought about signaling the pilot with a flashlight that she had with her. But on the fourth day, he flew over again and this time saw her.

"She was waving to us, which was such an exciting thing," said rescuer Mike Ahlstrom, fighting back emotions. "You're just ecstatic. You want to jump up and down that they're alive.

"I cannot say enough about how wonderful it was to see them," Grover said. "Not just when they arrived and I realized I was rescued, but their behavior, how they behaved towards me. They obviously knew what they were doing, they came down, they were comforting, they were kind."

During the time she was waiting to be rescued, Grover said she thought about how easy her life was 99 percent of the time compared to some people in other countries, which motivated her to get through the challenge.

Authorities were notified of Grover's disappearance by employees at the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch when she did not check out Thursday as scheduled.

"She was supposed to check out, and they hadn't seen her since Tuesday morning," Bronson said. "Her stuff was still in the room, and they hadn't seen her car. … They were really worried, and they contacted the sheriff's office."

Deputies found her rental car agreement in the room and began searching trailheads in the area for the vehicle.

"Knowing she was an avid outdoorswoman, they were running on the assumption she'd gone on a hike and probably had lost her way," Bronson said.

Deputies were able to track her car to Hell's Backbone Road at the trailhead for Sand Creek.

"It's a rather hard and not a very often used trail," Bronson said. "It's very remote, rugged, difficult terrain. It's not a simple hike. Where she was, it's difficult for the best, most experienced hikers."

By Friday, when they were still unable to locate her, deputies called in the Utah Highway Patrol search helicopter. Search and rescue teams on horseback spotted her tracks leading downstream, and she was spotted by air at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

"It's truly a miraculous survival," said Garfield County sheriff's deputy Ray Gardner. "If we hadn't been able to find her car rental agreement to locate her car, we'd still be looking for her, and I feel certain she wouldn't have survived much longer."

Grover, who works as a physician's assistant, told deputies she survived by laying in the sun during the daylight to sleep and staying awake at night.

"Temperatures got down to 38 degrees at night, and she survived it," Bronson said. "Somebody was watching out for her."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, jpage@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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