“Just answer it,” said Glory and Julia, exasperated…so I did.
“This is Tim Phillips of the Rocky Mountain National Park Service. We received a 911 call from your son, Andy. He’s missing, somewhere above the tree line in the National Park. There was a bad snow storm and the temperature is expected to drop to 19 degrees tonight. We’ve lost telephone communication with him, but Andy said that he’s very cold and he’s trying to keep warm in his sleeping bag under a rock. We have three two-man search teams up there now trying to find him, but I wish he’d come out from under the rock so they could see him. The canyon up there is filled with boulders, many as big as cars, and the storm brought two feet of snow…”
I had bought Andy’s sleeping bag. It was good only down to 45 degrees. No way could he get through the freezing night.
I listened in horror. And by my terrified end of the conversation, Julia and Glory understood that their beloved brother was lost in the Rockies. Glory’s friends pulled into the driveway and she went out the door, glancing back with an expression I had never seen her give before. We didn’t see her again until after work, the night of the next day, when she told me she had been “hiding,” not wanting to come home to hear the news.
Tim Phillips, the Park Ranger, sounded worried himself, and I began trembling, trying to stay strong and keep calm. Years before, a call came in the night--a policewoman telling me that our son, Sam, was in an accident on his bicycle, that he was apparently hit by a car and was bleeding from the mouth and going in and out of consciousness. The ride to the hospital was the longest in my life, so shook that I’d turn on the windshield wipers when my tears flooded my eyes and blurred my vision. It turned out that there was no car involved in the accident, that Sam had lost control on a hill and hit a curb, had been knocked out in the fall, but suffered no internal injuries.
Now I was on the phone again, with a Park Ranger explaining to me what he’d learned of our son Andy’s situation before his cell phone died, about the search efforts, and asking if Andy had any friends who might know where he was going. Tim Phillips gave me his email address and wanted me to send him whatever contact information I could find on who might have seen Andy last.
Even before I hung up, I watched our daughter Julia go out the door and walk down the dirt road. Andy is not only her brother but her best friend. She missed him horribly as he had been hitchhiking around the country, and now he was missing in the snowy Rockies in freezing weather. I was sitting at the computer when Julia came back, her eyes swollen from crying. I was struggling to find names and addresses and phone numbers of Andy’s friends who might know more about where he was, but my mind was frightened and foggy and my hands shook on the keys. I was making stupid mistakes. Julia came and stood behind me as I searched Facebook and put information on an email to Tim Phillips. Suddenly I fell apart and reached back for Julia and lay my head against her and sobbed like a baby. “This is so hard,” I cried, and she, who suffered the worst of anyone, put her arms around me to console me.
We told Sam, the brother who had studied survival techniques with Andy before Andy left, and he was thoughtful and quiet. And when Micki drove up with Disa, Julia went out to tell them. Micki said that, seeing Julia’s expression when she came out of the house, she thought one of our children had died. Our youngest daughter Disa was broken.
This explained the morning of that day. Micki jumped up early, wide awake and nervous and wanting to pray. She asked me to pray the rosary with her, and, being in the middle of some project, I passed it off with a careless “You pray for both of us, okay?” Micki prayed for four hours. She felt something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. It was about this time that Andy had awakened from the first night, very cold, and seeing that a sudden snow storm had added another foot-and-a-half to the foot of snow already on the ground, and that the temperature had dropped terribly. It was then that he knew he needed help. Micki had always amazed me with our children when they were young and nursing. Whenever they were hungry, she would have a “let-down”--her breast milk would leak--and she would be there to feed them. It seemed a psychic-biological phenomenon to me; and many times since, she’s demonstrated to me that this mother-child connection never stops. I should have prayed with her that morning.
But to make up for my failure, with Facebook, emails and phone calls, Micki and I asked our friends and loved ones to pray for Andy. And they then asked their friends and loved ones to pray, and soon countless people were putting Andy on their churches’ prayer chains. The response was tremendous! Micki had tried to call our own priest for prayer, but could get only recordings on the phone. So we emailed another priest she and Andy know well--Fr. Dan Hirtz of Salem, Missouri, who had taken them to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Later, Fr. Dan emailed back, saying that he was praying, and that ALL the priests were praying. As a matter of fact, he said, I and all the priests of the diocese are at the annual get-together right there in Branson! There were hundreds and possibly thousands of people doing what I had been too busy to do that morning. But I was too busy no longer. I prayed…and prayed…and prayed…and we prayed together as a family.
Tim Phillips called us periodically through the rest of that day, but no progress had been made. I was getting more desperate. I had made the mistake of reading about hypothermia, and from what I read, there was no way Andy could survive the night. Tim had told us that our son was above the tree line, and that Andy had told him he had no way of making a fire to warm himself. I checked the weather there, and it had dropped not to 19 degrees, as predicted, but to only 5. And finally the call came that the six men searching were being called back for the night. Sunshine was in the forecast for the next day, with some warmer temperatures, although still cold. But it was that night I was concerned about, and now Andy would have to suffer it alone and unfound…and the temperature dropped to zero.
As horribly worried as we were, we would have been even more so, had we known what Andy had gone through. When he had awoken Wednesday morning to almost three feet of snow, in bitter cold, terribly thirsty, he realized he needed help and called 911 on his cell phone which hadn‘t had service in three weeks and was on low battery. He then laid out his red, space blanket hoping rescuers would see it. As instructed on the phone, he blew his whistle periodically through the day. When, at 3:30 in the afternoon, his phone went dead, Andy was afraid the rescuers wouldn’t find him, and so he began making his painful way down the glacier to the lake, thinking his chances would be better there. In going down the steep, ice-and-snow-covered slope, he slipped and tumbled more than once. Already his hands weren’t working right. Finally when he got to the lake at the bottom of the slope and tried to move along its shore, he slipped and fell into the icy water up to his boxers.
Andy knew that if he didn’t take off his wet clothes, he would freeze and die. He hurried under a rock shelf, out of the snow, but when he tried to take his boots off, the laces were frozen and his hands wouldn’t work. He tore some pages out of his journal and wrinkled them up, then managed somehow to get a cigarette lighter lit. (Later we found that his hands were so numb that he couldn’t feel any lighter in his pocket.) With this brief little fire Andy managed to warm his hands enough to make them able to undo his boot laces, pull off his soggy boots, and then quickly pull off his wet and freezing pants. He then curled up in his inadequate sleeping bag, often rubbing his feet and toes to try to prevent frostbite. Now shoeless and with bare legs, going again out into the snow was out of the question, and the slippery boulders were a challenge even to an experienced and well-dressed hiker. And there, under the rock shelf, Andy waited through the bitter day, and into a night that would cause his father to lose hope.
He hadn’t eaten for twenty-four hours, his few Cliff bars were gone, and he was terribly thirsty and becoming dehydrated. Not having the means to melt snow, and knowing that trying to quench his thrist by putting snow into his mouth would lower his body’s core temperature and cause more harm than good, he resorted to drinking his own urine. He prayed often, and waited.
|Searching for Andy in Chaos Canyon|
When Tim telephoned and said the searchers had been called in for the night, my heart fell. Knowing of Andy’s inadequate sleeping bag and that he didn’t have a coat that would suffice in zero degrees, I asked Tim straightforwardly, “Do you think Andy will survive the night?”
“He’s young, and strong,” Tim said, and he tried to keep me from losing hope.
I went in to talk to our son, Sam, and told him how impossible it seemed. “Before he left,” said Sam, “Andy and I spent a lot of time studying survival techniques. I have faith that he’ll know what to do.”
Even so, I knew, it would take a miracle.
Micki stayed awake all that night, much of that time praying in the chapel at church. I stayed up late into the night, but wanted to be clear-minded for what the next day held in store, so forced myself to go to bed finally and try to sleep. But I felt so guilty, crawling into a warm bed while my son lay freezing on a mountain. And when I’d begin to doze off, I’d snap awake, hoping that Andy could stay awake, having heard that the first sign of freezing to death is getting sleepy and falling asleep, never to wake up.
But Andy did survive the night. As cold as he was, he did doze off a few times in the night and wake up again. He came to a point, though, that he thought he was dying. The cold was severe, and he had become much weaker. He kept praying. He prayed all twenty decades of the rosary. And thinking of his loved ones and remembering their faces helped him in his fight to live and not give up.
Micki’s sister, Alicia, managed, with Walmart’s help and cooperation, to pay for more minutes on Andy’s cell phone. But his battery was dead.
At about nine o’clock the next morning, Thursday, after Andy’s second night lost in the Rockies, over two dozen men and women hiked up through the deep snow to look for our son, volunteers from both the Colorado Mountain School and Larimer County Search and Rescue, and along with them, overhead, flew a helicopter from the National Guard. But now, thanks to Andy’s friend, Tierra, and researching Facebook, they knew better. They knew that Andy’s goal was the Continental Divide, and instead of Chaos Canyon, focused on Emerald Lake and the Tyndall Glacier area, carrying airhorns and whistles. Donna, a family liaison, had been assigned to keep us abreast by phone of the search efforts. Meanwhile I had been researching the area online, and learned that this was a record year of deaths in the Rockies. Crews had recently given up searching for a missing man in the Rocky Mountain National Park after four days.
|National Guard Helicopter|
Soon several were there with Andy, checking his health and trying to get him warm, giving him water and food. The helicopter came and dropped supplies, including clothing and footwear. Andy said they were so kind and caring that he felt pampered. It was touch and go for a time on whether he could walk or not, he was so weak, and they were wondering how to get him down off the mountain. But Andy actually ended up walking down with them on his own power.
At 12:06 p.m. our time, Donna telephoned us. All we knew was that our son was missing and they were searching for him. We didn’t know about any of these adventures I’ve been talking about above. I saw no way that Andy could have survived the night, and so, instead of hoping for the call to tell us he had been found, I was dreading the call to tell us that they had found his body. The first thing Donna said was, “We found your son…” There was no elation in her voice, and I felt weak. Micki sat across the kitchen table from me. Only a couple seconds passed, but they seemed an eternity, before the words were spoken: “…He’s alive and okay.”
I broke down. It was then I realized all the tension that had been gripping me, for even the relief was almost unbearable. I bawled in joy and awe at witnessing a true miracle, and couldn’t speak for some time. I looked at Micki and my lips said, “He’s okay,” and she broke down crying.
Andy was taken to Estes Park Medical Center. He was weak, dehydrated, malnourished, there was some muscle and nerve damage, and his CK level was way off, threatening his kidneys. When we finally reached him by phone, his voice was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. The first thing I said to him was, “Do you know you’re a living miracle?”
“I’m beginning to find that out,” said Andy. Then he asked, “Who told you? Who told you I was up there?”
“The Park Department called and told us you made a 911 call,” I said.
“Ohhh,” he groaned, “I told them not to tell you. I didn’t want you to worry.”
“Well it’s a good thing they did,” I said, “because there have been hundreds of people around the country and the world praying for you.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I felt that.”
That evening three close friends of Andy’s visited him in the hospital. One of them, Aaron Marsh, later called and told us that it was a great visit and that Andy was even up and walking around the room.
|Andy with his Aunt Vickie|
Of course we notified everyone we had told, that Andy was found alive and remarkably well, and we were overwhelmed by happy friends and loved ones thanking God for answering their prayers. We had all witnessed a true miracle!
|Jim and Victoria Mears|
The following week, Andy went to the doctor to learn the results of follow-up tests. His CK level is normal! All levels are normal! He’s perfectly healthy! And he’s gained ten pounds! He’s even gone hiking again since he’s come home, but this time with family members here in Branson. We have all had our faith renewed in the power of God and His answer to prayer.
Andy has felt so guilty for causing all this trouble, and he wrote on Facebook: “I am a fool, but a very loved fool, and a very, VERY blessed one. Thank you all. I'm so sorry. And SO grateful for you.”
And I commented, saying: “What do you mean, ‘fool’? You brought the world together.”
Andy would get access to computers along his hitchhiking journey, and he’d keep us posted on Facebook and telephone about his adventures. His sister Julia asked him in a Facebook message, days before his Rocky Mountain episode, if he would write a book about his journey and, if so, how would he start it. On October 24th, the day before he went to hike in the Rockies, Andy sent her the proposed beginning of his book:
“The boy woke up under a rock. But he said, ‘That’s okay. There’s a lot more day. Even good days will start that way.’”
The following is the Mission Report of the Larimer County Search and Rescue:
October 26, 2011 (Wednesday) RMNP Assist/Chaos Canyon - Missing 20's-Year-Old Male Hiker
It was a cold morning at the Rocky Mountain National Park search and rescue offices. The air temperature was one degree Fahrenheit. It might as well have been zero. The average snowfall report was between 18-24 inches of fresh snow. We knew we were here to search for someone but just didn't have all the details yet. Now it's 7am and time for the mission briefing.
Andy is his name. He's in his early 20's; he carries minimal gear and is lost somewhere in Chaos Canyon. The recent storm caught him off guard. He is cold, tired, and just about out of food and water. All this info comes from Andy himself. Wednesday afternoon he used his cell phone to call 911. With the days getting shorter rangers were only able to perform a quick and hasty search. That's where we come in.
After the briefing and a thorough pack check we departed for the trailhead. Not every role in search and rescue is glamorous. I think all of us in the field want to be the one who gets to save somebody. That's why we do this, we want to help others! However, it seemed 90% likely Andy was in Chaos Canyon and we were tasked to clear Tyndall Gorge. So that's what we did.
We left the Bear Lake trailhead about 9am. Keeping a no sweat pace we made our way up to Dream Lake. In winter it's a good idea not to get wet from sweat. If you have to stop for any length of time you get very, cold very fast. Hypothermia can set in quickly. Plus at our pace we were able to look around us for signs of Andy. Stopping at times to look through binoculars to find him. Calling his name out. And sounding a small portable air horn. About one hour into our search we got our first clue.
A gentleman coming down the trail on snowshoes said he heard someone calling for help up near Emerald Lake. Could this be Andy or do we have another mission? Andy is not supposed to be in this valley! We are all optimistically reserved about this report. We continue on, not forgetting to keep our search going by calling and looking for Andy. We're not more than 15 minutes up the trail when two more people on snowshoes coming down say they heard someone yelling "HELP" from the west side of Emerald. Now it's game on.
We immediately go into action mode. I stop to get some chemical heat packs out of my backpack (they take 20-30 minutes to get warm). I also take a minute to get a drink of water. Dehydration is a big problem for everyone at high altitude and in the cold. Not sure what we are getting into, I do it now! The rest of the team continues on.
They arrive at the lake just minutes before me and can hear Andy yelling from across the lake. We determine that crossing the lake is too dangerous. The edge is still so soft that we are stepping through the ice. The ice is also creaking and cracking. The north shore of the lake is the easiest route around. But is actually impassable because there are huge ice slabs and rocks breaking free from the cliffs above and crashing down near the water's edge. It sounds like a continuous avalanche. The south side is more stable because it is in the shadows of the mountain. However, it is strewn with huge boulders covered with almost two feet of snow, and full of potholes and pitfalls that can swallow you up! The south route it is.
I stay back at the east end of the lake to perform the duty of spotter as my other four teammates continue around the lake. This is an important role in case something happens to the others as they make their way to Andy. Or even while they are administering care. I would be the only one left who knew what happened and where it happened. Fortunately, all I had to do was stand there and watch them for nearly two and a half hours.
During that time they were taking care of Andy. He had spent a very cold night huddled under a giant house-sized boulder. Reports were that he had gotten wet in the lake and his blue jeans and boots were frozen. His sleeping bag, spirituality, and youth are probably what saved him last night. Warm fluids and dry, warm clothes were given to him. A helicopter that was assisting in the search earlier was now bringing in additional medical gear, clothes and warm fluids. Since there was nowhere to land, the helo carried the "care package" on a line about 100 feet below the air ship. The package was released by an electronic hook. After all this care was given Andy was able to stand up. And after a few minutes of trying to get his balance and strength back he was determined to walk out!
I can only imagine how difficult the travel was for him to get around the lake. Our team had a hard time even though we were all well rested, fed, and warm. During the patient care time, team 1, which had been searching Chaos Canyon, came up and staged with me at the east end of Emerald. When Andy and my teammates got to our location, team 1 took all of the additional gear plus Andy's gear from us. We all then hiked back down to the Bear Lake trailhead at Andy's pace. There was no hurry. Andy was casually loaded into the ambulance and was taken down to the hospital without lights and sirens.
Lessons learned. Be prepared! You never know what Mother Nature may bring you. Know where you are and where you are going. A map and compass are great to have but know how to use them. A cell phone can be a great tool. But don't rely on it. If he had been stuck just 20 yards any other direction, we may not have had the same outcome today. :-)
120 miles driven (total for 2 vehicles)
Mission time 07:00 ~ 16:00
5 LCSAR members
1 PVH TEMS member
L74, SL, R1, WFR
Larimer County Search and Rescue
THANK YOU TO ALL WHO PRAYED FOR OUR SON
AND SUPPORTED US DURING THAT TRAUMATIC WEEK.
WHEN I LOST HOPE, YOU STOOD STRONG.
YOU HAVE REAFFIRMED THE FACT THAT
WE HAVE A LOVING GOD WHO HEARS US.
To the Heroes of Larimer County Search and Rescue,
How can anyone thank someone enough for saving the life of their son?! This past week was the worst in our lives, and then the best, thanks to you! Your dedication, knowledge, strength and courage are awesome!
Our son, Andy Lund, had heard about the coming storm, but thought he could accomplish this one last challenge of the first leg of his journey--hiking across the Continental Divide--before the weather changed. The bitterness of the storm caught him unawares. And the news of him being missing in it was our worst nightmare.
The Rocky Mountain National Park Service kept us updated on your efforts to save our son, but while you trudged on in hope, and even amidst all our constant prayers, I (Andy’s father) was losing hope. I made the mistake of looking up “hypothermia” on the internet, and, short of a miracle, I could see no way our son could survive the second night in 5° or be found alive under a rock in deep snow. I was waiting for the dreaded call, and when the call did come, saying, “We found your son,” it seemed like an eternity waiting through those two following seconds before we heard, “He’s alive and okay.” It was then that we fell apart here and cried in joy and gratitude.
There are those who complain about the cost of rescuing people who go into the wilderness unprepared. May it never come to pass that money is valued more than life. We now know the priorities from personal experience.
You heroes volunteered to save our son. We and all of Andy’s loved ones and friends, and the thousands around the country and the world who prayed for him this past week, are now praising God and thanking the volunteers of Larimer County Search and Rescue for your miraculous efforts. We wish we could hug every one of you!
In deep appreciation,
Dale and Lilith Lund
To see the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.