Right place, right time
Near the top of the Callahan mountain range west of Roseburg, while standing next to a mountain climber who had life-threatening injuries, Harold Hall had a crucial decision to make Saturday.
Either send his 10-year-old grandson, Josiah Hall, down a steep, dangerous trail by himself to get help, or leave Josiah alone with the climber clinging to life, with multiple fractures and no feeling in his legs, while Harold set out to alert authorities to the accident.
Harold Hall, a 63-year-old experienced climber and semi-retired dentist, asked Josiah to stay with injured Daniel Cooper a little more than an hour while Harold traveled down the steep trail for help.
Alone on a mountain forest trail next to Cooper, Josiah prayed for the first time in his life.
“I prayed that he would live,” Josiah said.
For Harold and Josiah Hall, the plan was simple that Saturday morning. Harold would take three dogs and Josiah, who was visiting from Salt Lake City, to the top of the Callahans, where they would sip cold Dr. Peppers while enjoying a sweeping view of Douglas County.
It wouldn’t be an easy hike. The trail is on private Weyerhaeuser land, includes many switchbacks and climbs 1,200 feet in elevation in a little more than a mile. Harold Hall, who helps Greg Orton teach climbing classes at Umpqua Community College, said students refer to the trail as the “trail from hell.”
Harold and Josiah parked near the locked gate and set out on a dirt logging road with two fox terriers belonging to Harold and Micki Hall and a 12-year-old, overweight cairn terrier named Clifden that belongs to Harold’s daughter.
Next to the gate was a car with California plates. The car belonged to Daniel Cooper. An avid climber from California, Cooper came to the Callahans to climb on his own. At about 8:30 a.m., he texted his wife that his ropes were all set.
Rockclimbing.com lists the Callahans as “a series of sandstone crags that sit 1,500 vertical feet above the Flournoy Valley below, on a beautiful fir tree covered hill formation.” The land is owned by Weyerhauser, according to the site, but the “access is open for climbers.”
Weyerhauser, however, has tightened restrictions on the area, requiring a permit for anybody choosing to hike or climb.
Harold Hall said he chose this hike because he knew other sites would be much more populated on the Fourth of July.
As Clifden continued to struggle on the hike, Harold Hall shortened their intended route. The decision would move them closer to where Cooper was climbing much sooner than anticipated.
The Halls were within 200 yards of the top of the Callahans when they heard a noise that sounded like a yell and a “big thud.”
Harold Hall at first thought a rock had fallen, not suspecting it had been a climber.
As Harold and Josiah came around the bend, they saw Cooper, bleeding and lying with his head below his feet on a steep incline, approximately 20 feet off the trail. Cooper, who could barely talk, complained of severe neck pain and what would turn out to be multiple fractures.
That’s when Harold Hall decided to leave Josiah to watch over the injured climber while he went for help.
The forested trail reminded Josiah of “Predator,” a science-fiction horror film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that he had seen a few weeks earlier with his dad.
“... I’m not used to being alone for an hour and 10 minutes,” Josiah said Monday. “Especially in the forest when you are afraid the Predator is going to come at you and kill you.”
The possibility that Cooper might not live also concerned Josiah.
“And I was really scared,” Josiah said. “I didn’t want to see someone die.”
Harold Hall headed down the steep terrain, walking along the treacherous trail as fast as he could. Because he has two bad knees from years of climbing, running was not an option.
“If I had been younger, I could have run down the trail.” Harold said later.
He forgot to bring his cellphone, something his wife, Micki Hall, said he will remember next time.
“Grandpa always forgets his phone,” Micki said. “Maybe not anymore, but he did that day.”
Harold Hall reached the locked Weyerhaeuser gate in about 30 minutes, then went to the nearest house to call for help. He pounded on the door until Greg Suhrstedt, 19, answered the door. Within minutes of the call to 911, Greg’s father, John Suhrstedt, and his wife returned home. John Suhrstedt, 59, a retired paramedic and already dressed for hiking, left immediately up the trail with Greg until rescue teams could arrive.
“I think there was a lot of divine intervention in that whole thing, I got to tell you,” John Suhrstedt said Monday.
Harold Hall stayed back at the locked gate to direct rescue teams once they arrived.
After more than 30 minutes, Josiah continued to do his best to keep Cooper talking. He asked him what happened, but Cooper could remember very little.
“Too bad you don’t have a phone,” Josiah Hall said to the injured climber.
“It’s in my back pocket,” Cooper told him.
When a search of Cooper’s pockets revealed nothing, Josiah searched the nearby ground until he found the phone under some sticks. Despite Cooper having fallen an estimated 30 feet, the phone still worked.
Josiah moved back to the trail and called 911.
“Hi, my name is Josiah and I am 10 years old,” he told the dispatcher. “An injured climber needs help.”
“Are you Harold Hall’s grandson?” the voice on the other end asked. “Yes,” said Josiah.
Help was on the way.
Once the Suhrstedts arrived, John examined Cooper and made a startling discovery. Cooper’s arm was pinned under his side and had lost all circulation. Even though moving Cooper meant the risk of inducing paralysis, John Suhrstedt knew he had to get Cooper off of his side or risk losing the arm.
John and Greg Suhrstedt painstakingly adjusted Cooper onto his back and kept him stable until help arrived.
“We had no choice, because I know we’d lose that arm if we didn’t,” John Suhrstedt said.
The Steep Angle Rescue Team from Douglas County Fire District No. 2 arrived along with members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas Fire Protection Association. Because of the steep incline and the severity of Cooper’s injuries, stabilizing him and preparing him for transport proved to be a complex process.
Rescuers moved Cooper approximately 200 yards to the top of the mountain where he was loaded into a waiting Life Flight helicopter at about 1:30 p.m. and taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield. As of Tuesday, Cooper was listed in critical condition.
Three days later, Josiah Hall is taking it all in stride about his adventure on the Callahans.
“I know a lot of 10-year-olds, but I don’t know any who have actually saved a person,” Josiah said Monday. “I only know that my best friend saved a baby bird.”
Rob Bullock, battalion chief for Fire District No. 2, said Josiah deserves praise for staying with Cooper for more than an hour.
“Not a lot of 10-year-olds could have stayed with him for that length of time,” Bullock said.
Suhrstedt said Cooper is lucky that Harold and Josiah Hall showed up when they did. Because of the remoteness of the area, it easily could have taken much longer before Cooper was discovered. Suhrstedt said the injured climber could have lost his arm or even his life.
“These guys here saved this guy’s bacon by showing up when they did,” he said.