Accident Leads To A Fishing Trip To Remember

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Accident Leads To A Fishing Trip To Remember

Postby Todd » Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:42 pm

Colorado sushi: A fishing trip to remember

Christina Dickinson 12 hrs ago

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS - Too bad Craig Horlacher isn't in elementary school, because if that was the case, his essay "What I did this summer," would earn him an A+.

He has another working title for his story too, it's called "The View from the ICU." After spending more than a month Saint Anthony Central Hospital, he has a lot to say about a summer fishing trip that nearly took his life.

Horlacher is a geologist who has traveled the world and found himself in a few precarious positions, but nothing quite like the situation he got himself into in the Little Snake River about 50 miles north of Steamboat Springs. Horlacher headed that way in early August in search of the cutthroat trout.

Horlacher had one of his neighbors taking care of his parakeets, so he told her where he was going and that she should expect him back on Sunday evening. When he didn't come home Sunday, and they didn't see him Monday, his neighbors, friends and co-workers started to get worried. Little did they know Horlacher was still fishing, but not by choice.

He had taken a long hike into the middle fork of the Little Snake to do some fly fishing. On Saturday, he had a fish on the line when he tripped and broke his right leg. "I went head over tea kettle on everything, and I knew I had broken it pretty bad at that point," Horlacher said.

The rocks below him were slippery and sharp, but he didn't have many options.There wasn't a bank along this area and when Horlacher looked up, all he saw was a steep canyon wall. In order to stay somewhat dry and visible, Craig opted to prop himself up on a rock right in the middle of the water.

He knew his friends would start missing him in a couple of days, and at least he had some water and there were plenty of fish. Craig caught a couple of trout and ate them raw. He calls it Colorado sushi. Besides cutting up his emergency blankets to make a signal, he did shout out a few times, hoping someone would hear him.

In general, Craig says the days weren't too bad. He enjoyed the sounds of the river and his leg was staying cool in the water. At night, it was quite a bit colder, but he says it wasn't terrible. From the start, Craig remained calm, believing he had made the best choices, considering the circumstances.

"I basically went into a contemplative state saying to myself, 'My strategy is what it is. I don't control my destiny in this case, so I will patiently wait,'" Horlacher said.

Craig remembers spending four nights in the river, but he says he has no recollection of the last night. On day six, Routt County Search and Rescue got a call from police. They reacted quickly, but it was early evening and round of violent thunderstorms were coming in. As president of group, Russ Sanford has to stop the search for safety concerns.

The group met again early the next morning. After finding Horlacher's car, the team split into two groups, hiking into an area where they believed Horlacher was fishing. One team headed upstream, the other downstream.

Within minutes, they saw him.

"We knew even on the scene something bad had happened to his right leg, but what really got him was hypothermia, and that's what almost killed him," Sanford said.

Sanford says Horlacher was face down in the water and nearly unconscious. He was mumbling and asking questions, such as, "What are you doing? What am I doing here?"

Rescuers didn't have much time. Once they were able to get Horlacher into a basket, they lifted him from rock to rock to get him to the edge of the water. Using ropes and a pulley system, they lifted him out of the canyon and then carried him a half mile back to where the medical helicopter was waiting.

It was a rescue that almost became a recovery.

"I was told his body temperature was 86 degrees when we loaded him on the helicopter. The fact that he actually lived is less than a 50-50 chance," Sanford said.

For Routt County Search and Rescue, this was a huge boost to morale. The all-volunteer force has 28 members and five more going through training. Like all rescues, there is no cost to Horlacher. Donations cover the cost of fuel and food to the group.

In the hours after the rescue, Sanford and his team could only hope Horlacher would survive.

"We were holding our breath that he would continue to live for us, that he could tell the story. What it's like to hang out on a rock for six days and five nights. That's almost beyond comprehension and people write books about that type of thing," Sanford said.

Horlacher spent 33 days at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, including 15 days in the ICU. The hypothermia caused his internal organs to start shutting down, and led to several complications.

He's now out of the hospital and feeling well. Of course, he plans to fish again, but says he'll take a friend with him next time. In addition, he says he has a lot of gratitude to God and his friends who pushed hard to get a rescue effort going. Finally, he hopes to meet Sanford and his team someday.

"One of these days, I want to go up and meet all of them," Horlacher said.

If you want to know more about Routt County Search and Rescue, or make a donation go to their website . ... &catid=188
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