Mild temperatures and moisture-wicking clothes kept Charles Horton dry and relatively warm during his first week stranded in a remote area of the Routt National Forest.
But when temperatures dropped and rain and snow moved into the area Sunday, Horton's condition and optimism began to deteriorate.
"By Sunday night, he was soaked pretty much to the skin, and at that time he started to question his ability to survive," his friend Mary O'Brien said Tuesday.
Fortunately for Horton, a longtime Steamboat Springs resident, help was on the way.
Suffering from a fractured right leg and rib, moderate hypothermia, mild dehydration and frostbite, Horton was rescued Monday morning near Chapman Reservoir in northeast Rio Blanco County. His rescue came eight days after he broke his leg while cross-country skiing alone on a planned one-day trip.
His body temperature had dipped to 88 degrees by the time rescuers found him laying in a stand of trees adjacent to an old U.S. Forest Service road used as a trail to Chapman Reservoir. Hypothermia and dehydration were beginning to take their toll on the experienced outdoorsman.
"Another night in those conditions might have been (fatal) for him," said Dr. David Cionni, the Yampa Valley Medical Center emergency physician who treated Horton upon his arrival.
Instead, Horton spent Mon--day and Tuesday resting in a hospital bed, awaiting surgery to repair his broken leg. Doctors postponed the surgery until today so Horton could receive blood transfusions. He is listed in fair condition, hospital officials said.
Doctors were surprised by Horton's relatively good condition, considering his harrowing ordeal.
"When I heard eight days, I expected him to look much worse than he did," Dr. Mark McCaulley said.
Doctors expect Horton to recover from his injuries, though it will take months of rehabilitation for him to get back on his feet. Even then, the avid ballroom dancer may develop arthritis in his knee and need an artificial replacement.
"I think, with Charles' attitude, he's going to be back doing everything he was before (the injury)," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Sisk said.
The leg injury, suffered when Horton caught the edge of one of his cross-country skis while trying to slow himself down, is common in Ski Town USA but serious nonetheless, Sisk said. The injury was a result of the femur crushing and splaying the upper portion of the tibia, referred to by doctors as the tibial plateau.
The operation will take several hours, but Horton should be able to leave the hospital within two or three days, Sisk said.
Horton's ordeal began April 17, when he set out for Chapman Reservoir in the Dunckley Pass area for a short cross-country ski trip. After reaching the reservoir and stopping for lunch, Horton began the three-mile journey back to his vehicle when he broke his leg. In excruciating pain and unable to move significant distances, Horton made a makeshift shelter and spent the next couple of days sleeping under the warm sun during the daylight hours and staying awake during the chilly nights, O'Brien said.
He decided to move toward his truck on April 19, but was able to drag himself only a short distance. Horton found it difficult to stay warm in his new location.
"In hindsight, he would have stayed put," O'Brien said.
He continued to soak up the warmth of the sun in subsequent days and periodically blew on his emergency whistle. Horton sucked on snow and ice for water, and he still had food when rescuers found him.
Horton took a wilderness survival course from renowned tracker and environmentalist Tom Brown Jr., but his inability to move prevented him from using some of the survival techniques he had learned, O'Brien said.
Friends said Horton, who meditates often, relied on his spirituality to help him through the days.
"Charles has spent a lot of time in the backwoods and wilderness," O'Brien said. "He's a very intelligent and thoughtful man and a spiritual man, and I think he called on all of those ... to do what he needed to do to survive."
Rescuers didn't begin searching for Horton until Monday because no one knew he was missing. His friend and landlord Johnny Walker called authorities Sunday after he returned from vacation to find Horton's plants dry and his cat unfed. Messages on his answering machine indicated Horton, who is a certified massage therapist, had missed massage appointments.
The friends he told about his cross-country ski trip were on vacation. Business associates also were out of town.
Better communication could have prevented the ordeal, O'Brien said.
"We've all acknowledged that this is something that we are all lax on in this community because we're all so accustomed to going into the woods and going on hikes," she said.
An account has been established at Bank of the West to help Horton with his mounting medical bills. Donations can be sent to the Charles Horton Account in care of Bank of the West, P.O. Box 772948, Steamboat Springs, CO 80477.