A 33-year-old hiker ate bugs and melted snow for drinking water while stranded for six days in the Sierra Nevada wilderness after shattering his leg while rock climbing.
Gregg Hein, 33, set out for a hiking trip July 3 at Mt. Goddard, a remote 13,564-foot mountain in Kings Canyon National Park. He'd had a large meal and plenty of water, and told his family he wouldn’t be returning until July 7.
But his trip quickly turned into one of survival while he was hiking down the mountain.
As he grabbed a rock, a 100-pound boulder became dislodged and smashed into his right leg, breaking it in two spots. He said his leg bled profusely and eventually became infected.
“In my head, I had three days to survive,” Hein said.
For many, the possibility of not being able to reach help for three days would be overwhelming.
But Hein, an experienced hiker and rock climber, said he took a different approach: Keep it slow.
He cleaned his wound with water and created a splint using his hiking poles, an inflatable mattress and his belt.
“My whole thing was slow things down,” he said. “Let’s think methodically.”
He said that decision helped save his life, and his leg.
After stabilizing his leg and dressing himself in layers of clothes, he made the slow trek to a safer area.
He slid down two snow fields and climbed to a stable surface, where he remained for four days.
For those days, he created snow cones, which he melted into drinking water, and focused on conserving his energy and keeping his wound clean.
Eventually he moved on to Lake Davis.
Along the way, he said he ate about 15 bugs, including crickets and ants, and drank stream water.
“It took a lot out of me,” Hein said.
On July 10, he said he saw and heard helicopters searching the lake area. Desperate to get their attention, he waved and threw his canary yellow bivy sack in the air, but to no avail.
Tired and weak, he said he took a nap, woke up and tried again.
This time, he was successful.
Ground searchers found Hein just after 7 p.m. near the lake and airlifted him to safety, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.
Search and rescues crews had been searching for Hein for several days after his parent reported him missing.
“I just knew something was wrong,” said his mother, Randy Hein.
Gregg Hein, who is recovering at a hospital near his hometown of Clovis, says he plans to make some changes to his hiking style: He won’t be hiking alone, and will carry more supplies, map out his paths and cut back on the risky climbs.
He said he hadn't realized the burden he put on his family when he went on hiking trips.
“Everything is going to change,” he said. “I value my family.”