PORTLAND -- After surviving for six nights, injured and alone on Mt. Hood, Mary Owen was recovering Sunday in a hospital bed, suffering frostbitten toes and an injured leg.
“I just got it into my head that I wanted to go alone, which was not a good idea,” Owen said in a bedside interview with KGW Sunday.
While she admits to being headstrong, she thought she was well-prepared when she left Timberline Lodge hoping to summit Mt. Hood last Sunday.
“They never even knew I was on the mountain, so I spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday wondering why no one was looking for me," she said.
White-out conditions forced her to halt her summit attempt on Sunday. She got lost going down and the topography funneled her into a canyon where she made a snow shelter. Monday morning, she tried climbing out.
“My ice ax slipped and I fell through the trees and rocks, back down onto the snow,” she said.
Her leg and ankle were injured during the 40-foot fall. She decided to hunker down and wait to be rescued.
“Usually when you know people are looking and praying for you, you can feel it, but there was nothing, nobody looking, nobody praying and that was really hard,” she said as she detailed how she survived on melted snow and special supplies. “I ate Nutri-Grain bars and crackers and chia seeds and ramen, and my grandpa gave me the wonderful chia seeds, which are a protein and stretch your food out.”
Owen later questioned why no one noticed her climber registration form and realized she had not returned as planned.
The registry is managed by the Forest Service but as it turned out, Owen's form had been cleared out. It's a routine process that happens every few days because most climbers return the same day they left and don't close out their own forms.
Steve Rollins of Portland Mountain Rescue explained that the registrations were not designed to trigger any sort of a search. He explained they are sometimes used to confirm someone may be on the mountain after they are reported missing.
"It's not a trigger for a rescue. That's why its critical that you always tell somebody where you're going, when you're going to be back and what to do if you don't return," Rollins said. "In this case, we really didn't know where to look for her."
Owen acknowledged that she did not tell anyone her specific plans or what to do if she failed to return home on time.
As she waited for help, Owen managed to build a fire using Nutri-Grain wrappers as fire starters. She never lost hope, but couldn’t understand why no one appeared to be searching for her.
After her fifth night, she sensed things were about to get much better.
“I woke up with this sense of peace from thousands of people praying for me. It was really, really powerful,” said an emotional Owen.
On Friday, she spotted an airplane and then dreamed a helicopter would rescue her. When she woke up Saturday morning, that’s exactly what happened.
“The wilderness is still beautiful and it’s God's territory, so I’ll definitely be out there again soon,” she said.
(KGW reporter Wayne Havrelly contributed to this report.)