Lost near the top of Finger Rock Trail-at an elevation of 5,000 feet-temperatures plummeted that night. He didn't have a sleeping bag, coat, food or even water, so when the sun went down he fell asleep on a warm boulder.
Rescue teams began scouring the mountain early the next morning. Hasty teams launched in the dark, but others like mine started at daybreak.
Any stop while en-route to your search area requires yelling the lost person's name. Only a mile up the trail someone answered.
He was at the bottom of a steep scree cluttered with loose rubble, boulders begging to rumble down the incline and crumbly cliffs nasty enough that we rarely practiced on it-even in the daytime. The unorthodox route by an inexperienced outdoorsman had evaded detection.
I radioed base camp to tell them the victim was OK and warmed him with a fire and additional clothing. While cooking breakfast I asked how he navigated the slope.
"It was strange," he said. "I woke up and there were snakes with glowing eyes all around me. Then they parted and my older brother came up and said, ‘C'mon, I'll get you out of here.'"
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"He said I should stay put, he was going to get help."
No one else had seen his brother and he had yet to contact authorities. That meant another search, and the hiker provided a detailed description for the other teams. The glowing reptilian eyes were the product of hypothermia, or so I theorized as we began to walk.
"It's so odd. Why would he do that?" he asked partway down the trail.
"That's what older brothers do," I responded.
"But, why would he come back? He's been dead a long time."
Illustration by NRA Staff