Woman survives 4 days in Utah desert without food
A Maine woman who endured four days with a broken leg and no food and shelter in the remote southern Utah high desert says her faith and medical background helped her pull through the ordeal.
Victoria Grover, 59, a physician assistant from Wade, Maine, was recovering in a Utah hospital after being rescued Saturday in a rugged section of Dixie National Forest, north of the town of Escalante.
Grover set out on a short day hike Tuesday from Hell's Backbone Road to Sand Creek, and broke her leg on the return hike while jumping off a 4-foot ledge about two miles from the trailhead. After the accident, she holed up along the creek in a tight canyon at an elevation of about 4,000 to 5,000 feet.
"I prayed a lot and derived comfort from it," the Mormon church member told reporters on Sunday via a teleconference. "I thought God would do everything possible to help me overcome my stupidity. I learned from my mother that things can always be worse."
Grover said while she experienced hunger and severe pain, the worst part of the ordeal was the intense boredom and freezing nighttime temperatures she endured.
She survived by sleeping in shade during the day and staying awake while sitting and curled up in a rain poncho at night. The poncho saved her life by trapping her body's heat and serving as a wind breaker, Grover said. In addition to the long-sleeve shirt and light long pants she wore for the hike, she also carried an extra shirt.
The longtime outdoor enthusiast was able to start fires the first couple of nights with matches, but was unable to do so afterward because of the intense pain she suffered while sliding on her buttocks for firewood.
"The hunger is something that comes in waves. You get hungry and want to eat everything and then it goes away," Grover said. "The worst thing is the cold. It never warmed up except for a few hours in the afternoon."
By the final day, she said, she was suffering from hypothermia after shivering uncontrollably for several days.
"The last night I stopped shivering and that's one of the early signs of hypothermia," Grover said. "I was scared when I couldn't make myself shiver. I knew it was definitely hypothermia and I'll freeze if I can't get out. The last night was the worst."
A cold front pushed overnight temperatures down to the low to mid 30s during most of her ordeal, said Mike Ahlstrom, a member of the Garfield County sheriff's search and rescue team. Daytime highs were in the 50s and low 60s.
A backpacker died of hypothermia in the same area after becoming stranded two years ago, Ahlstrom said.
"What a relief and how excited we were to find her alive," he told The Associated Press. "You're fighting a losing battle every day you're out in country like she was. She was in amazing condition for spending four days without food."
Authorities were able to locate her through a rental car agreement found in her room at a guest ranch she was staying. The guest ranch notified the sheriff's office when she failed to check out Thursday as scheduled. Grover did not leave a hike itinerary behind.
While Grover had only intended to do about a six-mile roundtrip hike, Ahlstrom said, it was challenging because it was on an unmarked, unmaintained trail over rugged, scenic terrain featuring slot canyons and pine- and juniper-covered ridges.
Ironically, Grover was revisiting country she first saw while taking a Brigham Young University survival course 40 years ago.
Her outdoors and medical training proved helpful because "I knew what I had to do," she said. "I knew the importance of water. And I knew I had to stay put because my foot was no longer attach to bone on one leg."
Her faith and mind games such as reciting poetry helped her pass the time until rescuers arrived, she added.
"The boredom is incredible. That was a difficult part of it," Grover said. "I tried to force myself not to look at my watch. I tried to get a regular schedule. I would take a sip of water every 45 minutes. I would do exercises to try to keep myself warm."
Dr. Daniel Allen said Grover's prognosis is good and he expects her to make a full recovery. She underwent surgery on her leg Saturday at Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City, and is expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday.
"Her spirits are fantastic. I'm sure she'll be hiking again," Allen said, adding the fact she has diabetes had no impact whatsoever on her blood sugar or becoming stranded.
Grover said she plans to hike again as soon as she recovers. She enjoyed her first meal Saturday night at the hospital since her ordeal began Tuesday.
"Before that, I was dreaming of oranges, which is one of my favorite foods," she said. "But there are people who can go for weeks and weeks without food in this world. We have it easy in America.
"I will say I'll never forget when the rescuers arrived. There might not be any better feeling in the world than having help come when you need it."