PROSPECT — A 64-year-old Forest Service employee who fell and injured himself Saturday while hiking alone in Red Blanket Canyon crawled four miles in rugged terrain before summoning rescue workers for help.
Ken Wearstler said he hiked the area often and had wanted to see a particular corner monument of Crater Lake National Park — a point of interest he could reach by hiking from the bottom of the canyon to the top. While hiking back down the canyon at about 2:30 p.m., he got tied up in some thick blackberry bushes.
"I started to lose my balance and started to fall head-first down the hill," Wearstler recalled Monday evening in a telephone interview from his home in Central Point, where he was recuperating.
Luckily, Wearstler was able to swing himself back up the hill and prevent tumbling hundreds of feet down the cliff side. That's when he heard a crack, what he suspects is a torn ACL.
But even with his injury, he started crawling, transporting himself about four miles, he estimated.
"I wanted to move along (to) where I thought it would be safer for rescuers to get me," Wearstler said.
Sgt. Shawn Richards of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department said the terrain where Wearstler was is steep, jagged and covered in brush.
"Basically, darkness fell upon him," Richards said. "He wasn't making enough headway."
Wearstler called his wife, who then called 911 at about 7:30 p.m. About 20 search and rescue workers, paramedics and sheriff's deputies responded to the area.
"We had a general location of where he was from the description he gave over the phone," Richards said, adding attempts to ping Wearstler's cellphone were unsuccessful.
Search and rescue volunteers walked into the canyon, combing the area with flashlight beams and headlamps and calling out Wearstler's name. Navigating the terrain was a challenge, Richards said, especially at night.
"In the pitch dark, even with headlamps, it was difficult," he said.
Search and rescue crews spotted Wearstler just after midnight Saturday. It took them another four hours to reach his spot because of the rugged, steep terrain.
Once there, a medic stabilized and splinted his injured leg. Crews also gave him food and warm fluids and covered him with blankets.
"We kind of hung out there until daybreak," Wearstler said.
Search and rescue put Wearstler on a backboard and moved him a short distance to a nearby meadow. From there, he was airlifted to the top of the canyon, and was then driven to an area hospital.
Wearstler said he's thankful that he came prepared and had a means to communicate his emergency. He also praised the agency's efforts in coming to his aid.
"I have nothing but tremendous respect and gratitude and compassion for the work those guys did," Wearstler said. "It was absolutely outstanding."