Steamboat Springs Craig Horlacher, the 57-year-old angler from the Denver area who was rescued in North Routt County on Thursday, suffered from a broken leg during the nearly six days rescuers suspect he was stranded in the backcountry.
The broken leg could explain why Horlacher was unable to remove himself from the water or return to his car, which was less than a mile away from his fishing spot at the confluence of the Middle Fork of the Little Snake River and Tennessee Creek.
Horlacher was conscious and breathing but incoherent and reportedly suffering from hypothermia when rescuers found him Thursday. He likely had been stranded at the fishing spot near the Wyoming border since Aug. 6, the previous Friday. Rescuers found him partially submerged in the creek.
Horlacher was upgraded from serious to fair condition at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, hospital staff confirmed Monday.
Jim Linville, of Routt County Search and Rescue, said he recently learned about Horlacher’s leg injury from one of the paramedics who transported him to Denver. Rescuers found no indication of a broken leg during their initial medical checks of Horlacher, Linville said.
“When we rescued him, no one could tell he had a broken leg, he was so completely incoherent,” Linville said Monday. “He was not showing … any pain at all there, in one leg as opposed to the other.”
Medical crews pulled Horlacher out of the canyon using a ropes system, and an air ambulance took him to Yampa Valley Medical Center before he was transferred to St. Anthony. He initially was listed in critical condition.
Dawn Alperti, of Routt County Search and Rescue, said Horlacher’s experience ranks alongside the county’s most legendary survival stories.
“I’d say his body exceeded anything Charles Horton or other people with survival stories could have ever imagined,” Alperti said about Horlacher on Sunday. “He had to have been at least partially submerged that whole time.
“I think the biggest factor is that we have really cold water,” Alperti continued. “We had some really cold nights, and rain at least two or three of those nights that (Horlacher) was there.”
Steamboat Springs resident Charles Horton was stranded in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area for nine days in April 2005 after breaking his leg while cross-country skiing. Horton was 55 at the time. He was suffering from a fractured right leg and rib, moderate hypothermia, mild dehydration and frostbite when rescued near Chapman Reservoir. Horton’s story drew national media attention.