“I decided I just needed to stay alive long enough to be found,” said Claire Nelson.
The 35-year-old ventured along Long Palms Oasis trail, a popular 12-kilometre day hike in Joshua Tree National Park, a desert located 80 kilometres east of Palm Springs, Calif., on May 22.
But she hadn’t told anyone, besides a guide at the information centre, about her route.
Some three kilometres into the marked trail, Nelson mistakenly diverged off the main path and went up a hill.
” I got to the top and I looked out and all I could see was just sort of desolate, dry, rocky desert. I couldn’t figure out where the trail was,” Nelson recalled.
“I thought, there’s one little gap in the rocks and maybe that’s the trail, so I stood up and sort of tested my footing on a rock and as soon as I put my foot on it, even though I wasn’t putting all my weight on it, it slid like ice.” She fell 4.5 metres to the ground.
Nelson fractured her pelvis and sacrum in several places and sprained her foot.
She couldn’t move from the spot where she fell, and had wedged herself between a stack of boulders.
“That was when I freaked out,” she said, adding that she tried to dial 911, but her cellphone couldn’t pick up a signal.
She screamed for help, thinking someone would find her because she was only a short distance away from the heavily trafficked trail. But that wasn’t the case. She had wandered two kilometres off the path.
She spent the next two days staring at the rocky landscape, applying sunscreen to her legs and fashioning a makeshift shelter out of a T-shirt or a hat to shield her face from the sun.
Thinking about her family and friends kept her alive as she lay helpless, Nelson says.
“I’m finally in a really happy place in my life and I just thought it would be such a bummer to suddenly end it now,” she said.
Nelson was rescued by Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on the afternoon of May 25 after her friends noticed she hadn’t posted on Instagram for awhile and called a neighbour who found her car parked at the trailhead.
By then she was slipping in and out of consciousness. Then she heard the words, “‘We’re looking for a missing hiker’ come out of the sky” before the rescuers spotted her waving ferociously.
She was airlifted to a hospital in Palm Springs, and had surgery to repair the damage to her pelvis.
She started physiotherapy and was slated to return to Toronto today.
“I will hike again, I will hike alone again, but I will take better precautions,” said Nelson.