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Stranded skier crawls to survival
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service


April 27, 2005

A cross-country skier crippled by a broken leg and weakened and dehydrated by eight days alone in the backcountry near Steamboat Springs, Colo., summoned the strength he needed Monday for the act that saved his life: blowing a whistle.

That whistle call led rescuers to Charles Horton, 55, who had been missing since April 17. Horton was taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center and was listed in fair condition Monday night with a broken right leg, minor frostbite, hypothermia and dehydration.

"In my 15 years' experience, this is the longest anyone has been out and stayed alive," said Rio Blanco County Sheriff's Sgt. Anthony Mazzola. "He knew what he was doing (to survive)."

Horton, a Steamboat Springs resident, traveled to the Dunckley Pass area southwest of Steamboat Springs on April 17 for what he intended to be a one-day trip. After skiing in the morning and eating lunch, Horton was heading back to his car when he fell and broke his right leg, according to Mazzola.

Horton stayed put for the first two days, but then decided to try to get to his car. He dragged himself on his elbows and crawled through snow about a mile during his eight-day ordeal, according to authorities.

"On Wednesday he said he was going to die lying there or die crawling," said his friend Johnny Walker. "He decided to crawl."

With temperatures in the 20s during the week, Horton built a fire his first night and took shelter under trees. Horton was wearing warm Gore-Tex clothing and had carried a space blanket on his ski trip.

"He's a very experienced woodsman," Mazzola said. "He's taken backcountry survival classes."

Horton had enough food, but dehydration was a problem, friends said. He had used all his water the first day. Horton sucked on snow for water and was able to find a small stream of water on Thursday, Walker said.

Horton was reported missing when Walker, his landlord who lives in the same house, called police Monday. Walker had been on vacation and returned Sunday. He said he became worried when Horton hadn't shown up by Monday morning and feared the worst.

"He likes to go out in the hills by himself," Walker said. "He is not a risk taker. I was worried he was stuck in an avalanche."

The Rio Blanco and Routt county sheriffs and rescue teams found Horton near Chapman Reservoir in Rio Blanco County at about 10 a.m. Monday.

Searchers were able to locate Horton when they heard him blow his rescue whistle. Rescuers said Horton could hardly speak when they found him.

"He had a spirit to live," Mazzola said.


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Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

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