South Routt An 82-year-old fisherman who was rescued Monday morning from the Flat Tops Wilderness Area received a first-hand lesson in survival skills as he spent two nights lost in the woods without food or matches.
"You get really chilly up there when you're sitting up there with not enough clothes on," said Mort Saltmarsh of Kimball, Neb.
Saltmarsh was fishing at Round Lake with five other people Saturday afternoon when he ventured down a trail that dropped 500 feet in elevation and led him about a mile away from his group, said Ron Vanmeter, the Garfield County sheriff's office public information officer.
"It's very easy, according to people who know the area, to get lost by that pond if you're not familiar with it," Vanmeter said. "You need to be prepared for situations that could turn negative on you so you can buy some time because people will be searching for you."
The only thing that Saltmarsh had with him was a semi-full water bottle. He wore a goosedown vest and a camouflage jacket.
"I survived all right," Saltmarsh said. "You get awfully cold. After you get up and get a little sun on you, then you can finally get your legs to move."
Saltmarsh's party realized he was missing around 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Dick Jezo, a member of the group, rode down to Pyramid Outfitters to call for help.
Routt County Search and Rescue members started searching the area by horseback Saturday night.
"Routt Search and Rescue were the only ones to make it in Saturday night," Jezo said. "They did an awesome job."
By Sunday, rescue crews from Routt, Rio Blanco, Mesa and Garfield counties were out in full force searching the Round Lake area.
Saltmarsh said he could hear helicopters flying overhead, but they were unable to find him because he was in a heavily wooded area.
"I was trying my darndest on Sunday to go toward the meadow, but at my age, I couldn't go that fast," Saltmarsh said. "I made up my mind that I was going to head for the meadow and that's where I went."
Shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, a National Guard helicopter spotted Saltmarsh on an island in the middle of a river.
The helicopter actually woke him up, Saltmarsh said.
He was on the island because he had attempted to cross the river, but only made it to the island.
"I couldn't cross the river to the meadow because the river was running good and I didn't want to fill up my boots with water," he said. "So I stayed on the island and was sleeping in the sunshine on the island in the river when they found me."
In order to land a helicopter in a wilderness area, searchers had to work through various regulations and had to receive permission from the Governor's Office, Vanmeter said. The search was frustrating at times, Jezo said, because he felt like he was having to get a big wheel in motion that was covered in red tape.
"We came to the conclusion that if the bureaucrats at their office would switch places and work a day in the field, then the policy book would be written differently," Jezo said.
An outdoor enthusiast, Saltmarsh is an avid hunter and fisherman. He is chalking up his past weekend as a mistake, but it isn't hampering his style.
He plans to leave in a few days for another fishing trip in Vernal, Utah.
"We knew he was tough," Jezo said. "He kind of out-thought what we thought he would do."
Since the rescue, Saltmarsh said his body feels fine and that he didn't even need to visit a doctor after coming down from the Flat Tops.
"You learn a little every time you're in the wilderness," Saltmarsh said.
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