Robert Campbell, of Philadelphia, was rescued by two Marion County Sheriff’s deputies Friday, a day after the first winter storm of the year buried the trail he had been traversing. He was soaked, freezing and curled up in his wet sleeping bag in the shelter of a pit toilet. Part of his feet and toenails had turned blue.
“You count your blessings,” the 50-year-old told the Salem Statesman Journal on Saturday. “You thank your lucky stars. Not to be overly dramatic, because people have been through much worse, I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have survived another night. I’m convinced of that.”
Campbell warming up after Marion County Sheriff’s deputies rescued him Friday. (Marion County Sheriff’s Office via AP)
Campbell set out on the famed trail near the Mexican border in early May with plans to trek all the way to the Canadian border some 2,650 miles away.
But, Campbell encountered trouble Wednesday night when snow began to fall. By Thursday, the snow had buried the trail. Not even a navigational smartphone app was able to keep him from straying miles off the trail and into a boulder field.
“You just know, if anything happens, I’m dead,” Campbell told the paper. “No one’s going to find me until spring.”
Many hikers have died trying to navigate the treacherous trail in similar conditions.
In 2017, the body of Chaocui Wang, who had quit her job in Shanghai, China, to hike the trail, turned up in a creek made swift by melting snowpack. In February, another hiker died after falling on ice. A falling tree killed a German hiker this year as well.
Campbell acknowledged the danger he faced and called 911 on Thursday. But, the call dropped partway through and he lost his phone signal. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office deployed a search-and-rescue team to find him after the distress call.
Meanwhile, Campbell said he trudged into an empty campground and found the only available shelter: a pit toilet. Cold and wet, he waited. Friday afternoon, rescuers passed the campground and finally found his footprints.
“I really think I owe them my life because … I couldn’t have made it another night,” Campell told The Associated Press from his motel room in Oregon. “My sleeping bag and tent are just completely soaked and probably ruined and I have no dry clothes.”
But, Cambell said his adventure wasn’t finished yet, declaring, “Canada or bust.”
“I’m going to be doing it a lot more smartly,” he told The AP. “Any chance of snow, I’m not going to even mess around with it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.