Rescued man uses his story to teach others |

Rescued man uses his story to teach others

Autumn Phillips

— Charles Horton, after being stranded alone in the woods for nine days in April and balancing on the thin line between life and death, was shocked when his phone rang constantly with calls from Denver TV stations, CNN, Good Morning America, Jay Leno and People Magazine.

“I didn’t know what everyone was so excited about,” Horton said. “All I did was lay there for nine days.”

Horton, a Steamboat Springs resident, broke his leg during a solo, one-day cross-country skiing outing and lay stranded in the wilderness for more than a week before he was found by local rescuers.

It seemed every media outlet in the nation was beating down the door for a positive story — a story of survival.

Horton didn’t grant many interviews during those weeks of phone calls. He didn’t want his nine days fighting for survival to be wasted. He granted interviews only when he felt his story would be used to help people.

On the national stage, Horton’s story will be told in the December issue of Men’s Journal and in the December “What I’ve Learned” feature in National Geographic Adventure magazine. His story also will be told Sunday during the show “Explorer: Mysteries of Survival” on the National Geographic Channel.

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The premise of the show, created by documentary filmmaker Lisa Ling, is to answer the question, “Why do some people survive when others are defeated by thirst, hunger, heat and cold?”

For Horton, the answer is simple.

“I didn’t panic,” he said.

Since getting out of the hospital, Horton has read several books about survival, including “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why: Books by Laurence Gonzales” (Gonzales is interviewed in the “Mysteries of Survival” episode highlighting Horton’s story).

The people in Gonzales’ book, Horton said, all managed to stay calm and make decisions rather than letting the situation overwhelm them.

“People look at my adventure and they say, ‘I wouldn’t have survived for nine days.’ Well, if I had seen it as nine days, I wouldn’t have survived either,” Horton said. “I took it one day at a time, always thinking this was the day I would be rescued.”

Horton cites an experience he had that he also recognized in the stories of other survivors. During his ordeal, there was a day he thought might be his last, and he decided to be completely present.

“If this is the last day of my life, I thought, I wanted to experience everything,” he said. “I felt the pain in my leg. I saw the birds and the sunlight. I felt the wind.

“Most of the people who survived something like this describe being overwhelmed by the beauty of where they were.”

Horton does not feel traumatized by his experience. On May 30, with his sister-in-law and friend Mary O’Brien, Horton went back to the site where he broke his leg and had to wait in the snow until members of Routt County Search and Rescue found him.

Now that Horton has mostly recovered from his injuries, he sees himself as a teacher for those who venture into the outdoors.

Horton’s trip that led to his epic survival story was meant to be a short cross-country ski on spring snow. But after falling and breaking his leg, he spent nine days alone with only two energy bars, some dried fruit and nuts and the water he had in his Camelback to sustain him. By the end of the first day, almost all of his water was gone. Horton refers to “the sacred four” that people should always carry with them, even on short excursions — shelter, fire, water and food.

“If I had been carrying a space blanket (shelter), it would have changed everything,” Horton said. “I would have been warm and dry.”

Horton also suggests carrying a first aid kit, homeopathic Arnica pills to keep you from going into shock or passing out if you’re injured and a knife.

“When someone comes up to me and says they always make sure someone knows where they are going before they go (into the wilderness) because of my story, it makes it feel like telling my story isn’t one-sided,” Horton said.

What: Charles Horton’s story will be told on “Explorer: Mysteries of Survival”When: 6 and 9 p.m. SundayChannel: National Geographic Channel