After four days of dehydration, hunger and loneliness interrupted only by pain-induced hallucinations, an injured hiker who was rescued Saturday in Garfield County said one hazard stood out.
"The problem I really couldn't overcome and would have killed me if [searchers] hadn't come to rescue me was keeping warm," said Victoria Grover, 59, who broke her leg on what was supposed to be a day hike.
In a conference call Sunday, Grover recounted the nights she spent huddled under her rain poncho to trap the warmth of her own breath and sitting upright until dawn because lying on the ground "was like laying down in a cold water bath."
Wednesday night, the first night after she broke her left leg, was the worst. Grover already had spent one unplanned night on the trail Tuesday after she went exploring and overestimated her remaining daylight hours. She camped and set out the next morning to return to her car on Hell's Backbone Road. On the way, she leapt off a 3-foot ledge and landed badly.
"My knee was pointing one way, and my foot was pointing another way, which is a very bad sign," Grover said.
She also was dehydrated and knew Sand Creek was just over a ridge. She scooted up and over a 12-foot slope and took her first drink of water in 24 hours.
But there was nothing to do for the pain as night fell. She remembered shrieking into the night, "This is 10 times worse than childbirth!" As the pain intensified, she saw what appeared to be people riding bicycles through the desert. She screamed at them, then realized she was imagining them.
"The next day, I said, 'I ain't moving,' " Grover recalled. "...This is where they're going to find me, either dead or alive."
Grover, a physicians assistant from Wade, Maine, knew pushing her jagged, broken leg bone through her skin would be a fatal mistake.
So she waited. Every 45 minutes she'd take a sip from the creek. Every 10 minutes she'd do little upper-body exercises to get her blood pumping. She recited poetry and did math in her head to pass the time.She tried to appreciate changes in the desert around her, like the fragrance of sagebrush after a rain shower.
And she prayed. "I thought a lot about people how have suffered much more pain than I was suffering," she said.
But on Saturday, she noticed she had stopped shivering. "I thought, 'This is definitely hypothermia, and if I don't get out of here, I'm going to freeze to death.' "
The next morning, searchers spotted her tracks near the stream, and a helicopter crew saw her camp, Garfield County sheriff's deputies have said. Rescuers started looking for Grover on Thursday, when staff at the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch noticed she did not check out as planned.
"There might be no better feeling in the world than having help come when you need it," said Grover, who has been recovering at a hospital in Cedar City.
Always tell someone, she said, where you are hiking and when you expect to return. "If I'd been clear," she said, "they'd have known Tuesday night there was a problem."