DETROIT, Ore. – Robb Campbell wasn’t sure his 911 call worked.
Lost in a fierce snowstorm and wandering 7 miles from where he was supposed to be hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon, he made a desperate call for help.
But the call dropped part-way through, and he was knee-deep in fresh snow with no idea whether anyone was coming.
Without food, his gear soaked and fighting blizzard-like conditions, the veteran backpacker knew that if he didn’t find someone, he wasn’t going to last long.
“You just know, if anything happens, I’m dead,” Campbell told the Statesman Journal Saturday. “No one’s going to find me until Spring.”
Lost since Thursday, his best break came Friday when he found temporary shelter inside a pit toilet at Breitenbush Lake.
Not long after that, Marion County Sheriff's Search and Rescue deputies Mark Knospe and Mark Ferran found Campbell at about 2:30 p.m. after spotting and tracking his fresh foot prints.
The All-Seasons Motel in Detroit gave the 50-year-old from the East Coast a complimentary room Friday night and he will pay to stay there the next two nights while he recovers from his ordeal, including frostbite to his feet.
“You count your blessings,” Campbell said. “You thank your lucky stars. Not to be overly dramatic, because people have been through much worse, I’m sure. But I wouldn’t have survived another night. I’m convinced of that.”
A later-life hiker
Campbell was born outside Philadelphia, went to school in Georgia and worked in Atlanta as a teacher and for a hedge fund for about 30 years.
He said he was fired from a job three years ago, and in 2018 put all of his possessions into storage and hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine over a 10 month period.
What he found on that trek was greater than he expected.
People he met “would have given me the shirt off their back, and that’s the community,” he said.
After an unsuccessful job search, he decided in May to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail, starting at the Mexico border and heading north.
He was in Ridgecrest, California, when a 6.4 earthquake hit, and he experienced the best of people as he received generosity from strangers while thousands of miles from home.
The trail, which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, was designated a National Trail in 1968, but not officially completed until 1993. It runs from Mexico to Canada over 2,650 miles, including the length of Oregon.
Perhaps the most notable person to hike the trail was Cheryl Strayed, who wrote a book, "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," about her experience. Later it was turned into the Reese Witherspoon movie "Wild."
Weather surprises him
Campbell reached the 2,000-mile trail marker last weekend and recognized one of the most difficult stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail – an ascent to 6,800 feet – laid ahead, but the weather forecast looked promising, so he trekked forward.
“Mother nature can be fickle at times,” Campbell said.
On Tuesday, it rained heavily and he was soon drenched. On Wednesday, the snow followed and chilled him to the bone. He tried following the Pacific Crest Trail up the ascent to the steepest point, but he got lost in a whiteout and ended up hiking 7 miles off the trail.
Lost hiker found: 73-year-old survived alone for a week in California mountains
When he recognized his dilemma Thursday, he made his call to 911 but had no idea the 911 operator triangulated his location with a satellite.
Then he stepped in a crack between boulders and to free his foot had to dig down, remove his shoe, pull his leg out and then his shoe.
“You can’t be feeling sorry for yourself,” Campbell said. “Now is the time to grab you by your bootstraps. What really had me worried, though, was I was out of food for two days. I was really worried about losing the energy. That’s why I didn’t want to waste time.”
Using an app on his phone that he had been using to navigate the trail, he headed toward Breitenbush Lake. When he arrived, it was blanketed in snow – the only signs of life were the tire tracks of a truck.
It turned out, that truck was Ferran and Knospe, and they passed by in their search for him.
After his rescue, Campbell was checked over by a paramedic and told he had severe frostbite on one foot, but was otherwise fine after he warmed up. Afterward, he ate some lasagna.
Deaths on the Pacific Crest Trail
Dozens of people have died while hiking the trail.
A man from Germany died in August while hiking in Washington after being hit by a tree.
The number of deaths along the trail has not been documented, but at least 17 deaths have been recorded, including from falling, being hit by a car, heat stroke, drowning and suicide.
Even after the ordeal, Campbell isn’t going to stop.
He plans to hike the rest of the way to Canada, though he will be more delicate in his planning the rest of the way.
“It scares me that if I was to quit, I would never come back to finish it,” he said.
And after that, he wants to work for a time, then go hike the Camino Trail in Spain.
Follow Bill Poehler on Twitter: @bpoehler
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Pacific Crest Trail hiker found after getting lost in Oregon snowstorm