Nick Gaylord, who was lost for about 48 hours early this month in the rugged, steep canyons of the San Rafael Swell, knew he had to keep moving and thinking positively to stay alive.
And that was probably the major reason the 37-year-old Salt Laker stayed alive until members of the Utah Civil Air Patrol, a dog rescue team and other rescuers found him. He was airlifted by helicopter and taken to a Price hospital, where he was treated for blisters on his feet and a knee injury.He said it will take a little more time for his fractured ego to heal.
Gaylord had some chewing gum but no food or container of water, only snow that he could scoop up from the ground. He had no coat or map and was wearing only light cotton trousers, a T-shirt, a quilted flannel shirt and a baseball cap.
"But I was not frightened at any time. I was so intensely focused on getting out of there and keeping from injuring myself that I didn't think about the potential negative consequences," Gaylord said in a Deseret News interview.
He said he felt throughout the ordeal that he would be found and able to return home. Gaylord, who is manager of Holy Cross Hospital's biomedical electronics lab, said he believes his hospital experience was valuable in helping him monitor the effects of hypothermia, lack of sleep and dehydration.
The temperature ranged from about zero to 15 degrees in the search area much of the time. Gaylord said searchers estimate that he walked 40 to 50 miles. He is 6 feet tall and now weighs 195 but lost about 14 pounds during the trek.
Gaylord went to a desolate but beautiful area 20 to 30 miles southeast of Castle Dale, Emery County, March 5 to hike and explore with about a dozen friends.
The group, which has camped and hiked together for years, went to the Saddle Horse draw in the San Rafael Desert, where the weather was warm and sunny on Saturday.
Sunday morning the friends began hiking up the draw of Sid's
Mountain, where they looked for Indian writings and ruins along the rock walls. Most of the party remained at the bottom of the canyon, but Gaylord and a few others ventured onto higher ground along the canyon wall.
"As I gradually gained altitude, I realized I was several hundred feet above the rest of the group. I wanted to rejoin them but didn't really want to climb back the way I had come. The trail was much easier going up than it would have been going down. So I continued, hoping to find a tributary or trail that would lead back down to the canyon floor. When I didn't find one, I decided to climb up out of the canyon and loop around the canyon to the Jeep road that led to the campground. But I didn't realize the vastness of the network of canyons. It was far more involved than just looping around one canyon," Gaylord said.
After skirting canyons that are tributaries to the main canyon and encountering sheer cliffs from which there was seemingly no escape, Gaylord realized that it was beginning to get dark. He spent the next few hours waiting for the moon to rise so he wouldn't stumble in the darkness across sheer cliffs.
"When the moon rose, I walked around to get my bearings. I realized exactly where I was and knew where I needed to go. But it didn't help much because I couldn't find my way off the mountain. That night it was quite cloudy. When the clouds obscured the moonlight, I couldn't move safely. So I walked in circles to stay warm," he recalled.
After another day and a night of trying to get back to the group's base camp, Gaylord was spotted from the area by a pilot and observers in a Civil Air Patrol plane. A coat and a candy bar were dropped to him, and a short time later a team from Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs and a helicopter arrived on the scene.
Until being found, Gaylord said he didn't realize the scope of the search operation. Emery County Sheriff Lamar Guymon said the search involved about 20 members of the Emery County Jeep Posse, eight deputy sheriffs, eight to 10 members of the Civil Air Patrol, about six dog teams and four Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs.
Gaylord said he's "deeply grateful to them and anyone else who participated in the search. I've lived in Utah about eight years and hiked extensively in that area, which makes it all the more embarrassing."
Will the experience make Gaylord give up his love of hiking? No way. He's ready to go again just as soon as his blisters heal.