What started as a hunting trip wound up being what Cory Krambule describes as the worst night of his life.
On Oct. 18, Krambule said he pulled his trailer to camp at Swan Flats for a deer hunt. He hunted Saturday morning and around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, Krambule and a friend decided to go on a quick loop around a ridge to see if they could locate deer — he figured the animals were bedded down in the surrounding pines due to a light snowfall.
“I’ve hunted my whole life,” Krambule said, taking any chance to be in nature. “I love the outdoors.”
Anticipating a truly short hike not far from his camp, he left his pack and water. But then, on his way back, a storm hit.
“That blizzard came down off the top of that mountain so dang fast,” Krambule said.
Within five minutes, Krambule said he could see nothing. The whiteout storm had obscured all of his navigational reference points. Knowing the general direction of his camp, Krambule forged ahead but soon found himself in an unfamiliar place.
“I thought I was on the right ridge to go down into camp, but I was one ridge too soon, I think,” Krambule said. “It was just snow blowing everywhere. I tried walking down to get a better idea of where I was at, and I realized, ‘I’m too far away from the camp now and it’s getting dark and I’m stuck.’”
After taking several falls, Krambule realized he couldn’t keep walking in the storm. He found a ravine that sheltered him from the wind screaming over the ridge and ducked under a low-limbed pine tree. He had his gun, his knife, his phone, a lighter, two packs of Skittles and a Starburst on his person. Krambule said he knew the first thing he needed to do — he had to start a fire. He dug under the tree to liberate dry tinder and twigs for a 5-inch fire he stoked through the night.
He said he tried to stay singularly focused on what he could do, but in the back of his mind was chaos.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘Don’t fall asleep, you won’t wake up,’” Krambule said. “It was so cold.”
Krambule said picturing the faces of his children and imagining what it would be like if he wasn’t present for their lives drove his need to survive.
“I have three little girls at home and a beautiful wife,” Krambule said. “I’m like, ‘I can’t go out like this.’”
Though he had no phone service and a moribund phone battery, Krambule kept an eye on the time and began a mental countdown until he could move again. Around 4:30 a.m., the storm had lessened and the reflection off the fresh layer of snow allowed him enough visibility to try and make his way. Krambule traversed rocks, ice and crisscrossed deadfall for hours — he said he fell more than 30 times. He said knew he had to find the road that day or he wasn’t going to make it another night.
“I was counting my steps,” Krambule said. “I was counting 10 steps, stop. Ten steps, stop. I couldn’t go anymore.”
Krambule said he saw mirages, visions of houses and trucks towards the end — sure signs of civilization that were gone in a blink. Around 9 a.m., Krambule came across an almost divine set boot tracks — tracks he believes were from a fellow hunter made fresh that morning.
“They were literally going the opposite direction I wanted to,” Krambule said, but reasoned to himself the tracks must lead to someone’s vehicle or a road. “Thank God there was the road there — after I got to the road, I knew I was going to be OK.”
When he got to the road, he flagged down a truck that just so happened to be driven by a relative. Krambule was driven back to his camp, nearly 2 miles away, to find family and Search and Rescue looking for him. He said he was extremely grateful for everybody that came up to help look for him.
Though he was dehydrated and hypothermic — with several cuts, bumps, bruises — he elected to avoid the hospital and go home. He said the experience won’t keep him from the outdoors.
“My wife says I’m grounded and I can’t leave the house,” Krambule said with a laugh, but he said he went hunting in the foothills on Wednesday morning. “I’ve hunted for so long, and always enjoyed it so much, I didn’t want that to be my dwelling point.”