Hiker Gregory Hein of Clovis “entertained the idea” of possibly dying in the high Sierra of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as he lay severely injured for six days.
But he said the thought crossed his mind only a few times. The 33-year-old experienced hiker, rock climber and rafting guide was determined to live – and he did.
From a wheelchair Tuesday at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Hein talked about breaking his leg on July 5, hiking down from 13,600-foot Mount Goddard, and his eventual rescue Thursday by a National Park Service helicopter.
Hiking down the mountain, he dislodged a boulder that plowed into the back of his right calf, breaking bones in three spots. The impact forced bone to protrude about an inch and a half through the skin, Hein said.
His foot was soon “dangling,” Hein said. “I had to grab it so hopefully it wouldn’t rip off.”
After sliding down several ice fields, he was without food for six days, except for a few crickets and moths, but he managed to drink a little melted ice and later, from a stream.
Rescue crews starting combing the high Sierra on Wednesday, the day Hein’s dad, Doug Hein, called the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Gregory Hein had been expected home two days earlier.
“I can’t commend them enough for the efforts and the energies that they put out to try and save one person’s life,” Gregory Hein said of the rescue teams from Fresno County and the Park Service, about 80 people in all, who helped look for him.
Hein said Tuesday he has at least two more surgeries on his right leg to combat infection and repair bones and that he could be in the hospital into next week. The goal is to put a metal rod in his calf.
Hein has family ties to Clovis Unified. His mother is Randy Hein, principal of Temperance-Kutner Elementary School, and his grandfather is Floyd “Doc” Buchanan, former longtime district superintendent.
Hein’s perilous trek began July 3. He parked his car at Florence Lake in Fresno County and within two days had hiked alone more than 20 miles, much of it cross-country, to the summit of Mount Goddard. After summiting on July 5, he hoped to make it to Blayney Hot Springs that evening, but the goal was soon shattered with his leg.
Hein wasn’t due home until July 7, and he said he realized he had at least three days to survive before anyone would start looking for him.
In an attempt to avoid potential rock fall, and knowing he had to get further down the mountain to find help, Hein left his backpack on the side of Mount Goddard. He grabbed only a few things from the pack: A poncho, pocketknife, cords, whistle and a bivvy sack – a small, lightweight shelter.
He didn’t take more because he miscalculated, believing he was closer to Evolution Valley, where he hoped he would see hikers.
As he lay bleeding, Hein contemplated applying a makeshift tourniquet.
It was a big decision. If he did, “I would have lost a limb.”
By the time night fell, Hein wasn’t feeling light-headed, so he took a chance and didn’t cinch his leg. By the next morning, the bleeding had slowed significantly.
For four days, he lay near the edge of a small glacier, nursing his injury with ice.
Hein stabilized his leg with hiking poles, wrapping them with a belt and some cord. On Wednesday, he headed for Davis Lake, crawling about a mile and dropping about 1,000 feet. He hoped the new location might increase his chance of being found.
On Thursday, he saw helicopters, but they didn’t see him. Two flew over him several times, he said. “It was kind of wrenching.”
But around 7:30 p.m. Thursday, a Park Service helicopter landed about 50 feet from him at Davis Lake. The pilot was dropping off a search-and-rescue crew in the area when Hein came into view.
After seeing the crew spot him, “I laid down on my back for a while, and breathed a deep sigh of relief.”
Alive and safe at Community Regional Medical Center, Hein has a lot to look forward to. He just finished his undergraduate degree in environmental studies at Humboldt State and hopes to attend the San Joaquin College of Law in Clovis.
The next time Hein treks into the wilderness he plans to carry a reflective mirror, which can be used to signal rescue aircraft; a satellite-linked device, which can be used to alert rescuers about a location; and more medical supplies and gear.
Hein said backpackers should also apply for a wilderness permit so there is documentation of a proposed route, and make sure loved ones are aware of that route, too.
As for Hein’s parents, there’s just a “lot of relief” to see their son “alive, breathing, talking.”