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Expert skier lost five days in North Cascades without Essentials, map, compass and GPS
Saving Dan Witkowski: Skier lost in Cascades to be released today from Seattle hospital
The Dailey Record
By Pat Muir
Dan Witkowski, looking healthy except for blackened toes and fingers,
explained Friday morning that he had kept moving for four days, trying to stay
alive in the wilderness as 20 inches of snow fell.
The 25-year-old Ellensburg man, who was rescued Sunday near the Alpental ski area at Snoqualmie Pass, recalled the story for a press conference at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
"I just didn't want to die, you know," Witkowski said.
For the first two days after skiing down the wrong side of a ridge on New Year's Eve and becoming lost, he kept a clear head and kept moving, stopping only for short breaks. When he did stop, he stripped the bark off of trees to lie down on, still never letting himself sleep, he said. He had a parka, a helmet, goggles, ski pants, long johns, a T-shirt and a fleece, but no survival gear.
There were times when he was delusional, but he knew he had to keep moving to stay warm, he said. Witkowski, an experienced "extreme skier," was alone and in a rugged backcountry area he had never seen before.
"I just realized I couldn't panic. I couldn't waste any energy," Witkowski said.
By day three, he was beginning to lose it physically and mentally, he said.
"I thought I was at home at times. The last day, I don't remember much at all," Witkowski said.
He prayed and he kept going, driven by thoughts of home and family. Then, as he tired on day four, he kind of gave up, found a place under a tree, hunkered down and tried to stay warm, he said. Then he thought about dying.
"I didn't think about it too much, though," Witkowski said.
His parents, Ellensburg's Bob and Maryann Witkowski, on the other hand, thought about the possibility a lot. Maryann said she and Bob, the city's director of community development, had all but given up on seeing their son alive again.
"It's a miracle," she said. "I feel it's a miracle."
At about 4 p.m. Sunday rescue workers, having spotted tracks and some snow gear he had dropped, found Witkowski and transported him to Harborview. He suffered from frostbite and hypothermia when he arrived at the hospital at 5:48 p.m. Initially, he was listed in critical condition, but he progressed steadily and was expected to be released today, said Dr. David Heimbach, who cared for Witkowski at Harborview.
It will be at least a month or two before the extent of the frostbite damage becomes evident, and Witkowski still may lose fingers and toes, Heimbach said. Beyond ointment to stave off infection, there isn't much to be done for treatment; Witkowski will just have to wait to
see how much his body heals itself, Heimbach said.
"What recovers by itself will recover by itself and what won't will remain dead," he said.
That Witkowski is young and physically fit, despite losing about 20 pounds during the ordeal, likely saved his life, the doctor said.
"That he lived at all is pretty remarkable Š I probably would have been an icicle pretty quick," Heimbach said.
Now Witkowski, a dishwasher who lives with his parents, plans to give college another shot, probably Central Washington University, he said. In the immediate future, though, he was mostly looking forward to returning to Ellensburg and sleeping in his own bed, he said.
"I just feel real lucky," Witkowski said. "It seems like somebody was standing over me."
Dan Witkowski, the skier who spent five days lost up at Snoqualmie Pass, left the hospital Thursday after losing both his feet;
but his will to ski again is still intact.
KOMO 4 TELEVISION NEWS
The will to survive kept a skier, lost in the mountains, alive for
five days. Now that same determination and spirit is helping Dan Witkowski
survive the loss of both his feet.
Six weeks ago, Dan Witkowski walked into a news conference, battered, exhausted and badly frostbitten, but he walked in.
Thursday, after a double amputation, he left Harborview Medical Center in a wheelchair with casts where his ankles and feet used to be. But his optimism remains constant.
"Not sure what obstacles are going to be but I'm sure I'll be able to take them on," he said.
Witkowski got lost skiing and spent five days wandering the mountains near Snoqualmie Pass. Rescuers, figuring him for dead, found him just as they were ready to end the search.
Days after his rescue, he talked about what kept him alive: "I just didn't want to die you know, I just didn't want to end up, up there."
With his feet and fingers badly frostbitten, his prognosis was still good and doctors were optimistic he could make a full recovery. But the tissue in his feet didn't recover, infection set in and Witkowski had a decision to make.
"Then I had to make a decision to either amputate my feet or keep my feet," he said.
Doctors agreed Witkowski's best chance for an active life later, was to amputate both feet now.
"I think he's a otherwise young and healthy person with a lot of motivation and a lot of support," says Harborview burn specialist Dr. Matthew Klein. "Those are all the critical ingredients for success."
"It was easy," to make the decision says Witkowski, "once I understood everything."
Witkowski doesn't know what's ahead. But he knows what he wants. "I want to be able to walk as soon as possible, and just be normal, a normal everyday life."
After that? "Skiing yeah. That's something I'm definitely going to be doing. I imagine I'll be on the slopes next season." As an afterthought he adds, "doing the best I can."
Doctors believe Witkowski could walk with prosthetics in as little as three months, and they agree he could likely be skiing again next season.
Dan Witkowski: Survivor. The loss of lower legs won't stop him
An advertisement in Rock and Ice, Issue 144, September 2005
Skier Dan Witkowski learned about the benefits of carrying a PLB the hard way. A misadventure in the rugged backcountry of Washington State's Cascade Mountain range left Dan hopelessly lost and near death in 2004.
He survived to tell the tale, though frostbite complications cost him his legs. Back from the brink and outfitted with new artificial legs, the 26-year-old skier returned to the slopes this past January, determined to remain active and equally determined never to roam the mountains without a new companion by his side-- a Personal Locator Beacon.
Having read about the plight of this young Ellensburg, Washington man in national media coverage, management at ACR decided that Dan's story would serve as a stark message to those who work and play in the remote outdoors without the benefit of a safety and survival plan.
As a result, ACR is featuring Dan in a national safety awareness campaign and has made sure that Dan and his family now carry the world's smallest and most function-rich Personal Locator Beacon
-- The TerraFix™ 406 GPS I/O.
See the Advertisement in PDF
Our TraditionalMountaineering Analysis:
If you are not lost, it is best to keep moving and generating heat rather than to wait in one place until found. If you know where you need to go to car or camp, it is better to keep moving, even if painfully injured. There are many extreme examples of self rescue in traditional mountaineering literature.
If you are truly lost, it is better to to mark your location for rescuers and stay in one place for hours or days until found.
Surely, you have followed the Basic Responsibilities of the Backcountry Traveler so that someone will be looking for you. Surely you are dressed for the forecast weather. Surely you have the Ten Essential Systems so that you can protect yourself from seasonal weather changes and can keep hydrating and eating the right fuel to maintain your ability to keep using your large muscle groups to generate heat. Surely you will protect and exercise your fingers and toes relentlessly.
Sadly, there are many examples of folks who lost their way without a map and compass (or without the ability to use them), and without the Ten Essential Systems, who have survived, losing feet and fingers and many more who have lost their lives. See below. Surely, we can learn from the mistakes of others.
Warning: Traditional Mountaineering is an inherently dangerous sport!
WARNING - *DISCLAIMER!*
Read more . . .
FREE Clinic on Real Survival Strategies and Staying Found with Map, Compass and GPS together
What do you carry in your winter day and summit pack?
Why are "Snow Caves" dangerous?
Why are "Space Blankets" dangerous?
Why are "Emergency Kits" dangerous?
How can you avoid Hypothermia?
Missing climbers on Mount Hood, one dies of exposure, two believed killed in fall
Missing California family found, dad dies from exposure and hypothermia
Missing man survives two weeks trapped in snow-covered car
Missing snowmobile riders found, Roger Rouse dies from hypothermia
Olympic Champion Rulon Gardner lost from companions on snowmobile!
Lost Olympic hockey player looses feet to cold injury
Expert skier lost five days near resort in North Cascades without map, compass, gps or cell phone
Mount Hood - The Episcopal School Tragedy
Mount Hood - experienced climbers rescued from snow cave
How can you learn the skills of snow camping?
About Alpine Mountaineering:
The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
Following the Leader
The Mountaineers' Rope
Basic Responsibilities Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
The Ten Essentials Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales
Lost and found
Climber disappears on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Hiker lost five days in freezing weather on Mount Hood
Professor and son elude search and rescue volunteers
Found person becomes lost and eludes rescuers for five days
Teens, lost on South Sister, use cell phone with Search and Rescue
Lost man walks 27 miles to the highway from Elk Lake Oregon
Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
Searchers rescue hiker at Smith Rock, find lost climbers on North Sister
Girl Found In Lane County After Lost On Hiking Trip
Search and rescue finds young girls lost from family group
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Rescues after the recent snows
Novice couple lost in the woods
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Ollalie Trail - OSU Trip - Lost, No Map, Inadequate Clothing
Map, Compass and GPS
Map, compass and GPS navigation training Noodle in The Badlands
BLM guidelines for Geocaching on public lands
Geocaching on Federal Forest Lands
OpEd - Geocaching should not be banned in the Badlands
Winter hiking in The Badlands WSA just east of Bend
Searching for the perfect gift
Geocaching: What's the cache?
Geocaching into the Canyon of the Deschutes
Can you catch the geocache?
Z21 covers Geocaching
Tour The Badlands with ONDA
The art of not getting lost
Geocaching: the thrill of the hunt!
GPS in the news
A GPS and other outdoor gadgets make prized gifts
Wanna play? Maps show you the way
Cooking the "navigation noodle"
How accurate is the inexpensive hand-held GPS today?
Can you get me a $30 rebate on your favorite GPS: Garmin's Legend? pdf form
What are some good Central Oregon Geocaches?
What is the Public Land Survey Grid? pdf
What is a PLB?
What is the UTM Grid? six pdf pages
Which GPS do you like?
Which Compass do you like?
How do you use your map, compass and GPS together, in a nut shell?
How can I learn to use my map, compass and GPS?
Do you have map, compass and GPS seminar notes? six pdf pages
Three Mountaineers struck by rock-fall in North Cascades
Solo climber falls from Cooper Spur on Mount Hood
Climber dies on the steep snow slopes of Mount McLaughlin
Climbers swept by avalanche while descending North Sister's Thayer Glacier Snowfield
Wilderness Travel Course Newsletter this is a large PDF file
Runaway glissade fatal for Mazama climber on Mt. Whitney
Yosemite's El Capitan tests rescuers' skills
Climbers fall from Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier Headwall
Solo hiker drowns while crossing Mt. Hood's Sandy River
Injured climber rescued from Mount Washington
Mt. Washington tragedy claims two climbers
Another Mt. Rainier climber dies on Liberty Ridge
Mt. Rainier climber dies after rescue from Liberty Ridge
Young hiker suffers fatal fall and slide in the Three Sisters Wilderness
North Sister claims another climber
Solo climber Aron Ralston forced to amputate his own arm
Portland athlete lost on Mt. Hood
Broken Top remains confirmed as missing climber
Grisly find: hikers on Broken Top find apparent human remains
Once again, cell phone alerts rescuers of injured climber
Storm on Rainier proves fatal
Mountain calamity on Hood brings safety to the fore!
Fall into the Bergschrund on Mt. Hood, rescuers crash!
Paying the price for rescue
Accidents in North American Mountaineering
Goran Kropp killed while rock climbing in Washington