BEND, Ore. — James Thomason lay alone on a steep, remote, snowy slope at the base of Mount Jefferson, his right leg shattered. He thought he would die there.
His friend had gone for help, and luckily would encounter three other hikers who boasted the skills, experience and wherewithal to coordinate a plan that would help save Thomason’s life.
Thomason was overcome with emotion when he recounted what three Central Oregon teenagers did for him.
“I’m so grateful and astounded by their willingness to help a perfect stranger,” Thomason said through tears.
“And their selflessness and their preparedness. And how calm they were in seeing me just fully broken. They took care of me.”
Thomason, a 38-year-old real estate agent from Portland, was on a weekend backpacking trip with friend Carl Munz. The two were day hiking on a side trail off the Pacific Crest Trail in a snowy area on July 11. About 1 p.m., Thomason lost his footing.
“I stepped down and slipped, and started sliding on my feet,” Thomason recalled. “I fell to my butt and slid down on my back for about 20 to 30 feet. My leg started to curl up under me and I heard the bone crack. I thought I hit a tree, but instead it was my bone. I looked down and saw my bone protruding through my sock.”
Munz made his way down to his friend, and fashioned a splint out of tree branches and his backpack. They decided he would return to their camp near Shale Lake and come back with some warm clothes and a sleeping bag for Thomason before going for help.
When Munz got back to camp, he encountered Prineville’s Shiloh Binder, 15, his sister Marah Binder, 17, and Terrebonne’s Caden Bolic, 17.
The three experienced hikers, all students at Redmond Proficiency Academy, were one week into a Pacific Crest Trail trek from Cascade Locks to Elk Lake. Munz explained to them what happened, and they formulated a plan. Shiloh would use his Garmin inReach global satellite communicator to try to coordinate a rescue and Marah, Bolic and Munz would hike back to stay with Thomason during the night.
“I hiked up a ways,” Shiloh recalled. “I called 911. I got a couple different services on the phone, sheriff’s offices and search and rescue.”
Shiloh would end up hiking and running 17 miles during the night with a headlamp, trying to stay in contact with Linn County Search and Rescue out of Albany, which would eventually get to Thomason at about 6 a.m. July 12.
“I was hiking to try to mark off the junctions that search and rescue needed to take to get to us,” Shiloh said. “A very thick winter storm started coming in with very dense fog. It started to snow and rain on me.”
Meanwhile, Marah and Caden wrapped another sleeping bag around Thomason and started a fire on the precipitous slope.
“He was in and out of shock all night,” Marah said of Thomason. “We had to prop him up with rocks to keep him from sliding farther down the ravine. We propped ourselves up between two trees.”
They gave Thomason hot tea and ibuprofen, staying with him some 15 hours until search and rescue arrived. The Binders and Bolic are all trained as Wilderness First Responders and they put those skills to use.
“It was challenging, but it honestly wasn’t horrible,” Marah said. “There was no one else I’d rather be out there with than those boys. I feel like I couldn’t be more prepared. I’m just happy to help. We were just at the right place at the right time, and we were going to do anything we could to get him out of there safely.”
Shiloh met up with the search and rescue team at about 4:30 a.m. near the Pacific Crest Trail, and they hiked to Thomason.
They carried a litter in and got him mobilized at the bottom of the snowfield. Shiloh used his Garmin device to coordinate with a National Guard helicopter that would take Thomason off the mountain by about 10 a.m. July 12.
“They lowered two guys down onto the snow field, and got him prepped and tied onto a gurney,” Shiloh recalled. “They raised him up with one of the men by cable.”
The helicopter flew Thomason to Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland. Thomason said he suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg. The surgery to repair it included a titanium rod, two screws and a small plate.
He was released from the hospital and is recovering at home.
Shiloh, Marah and Caden finished their trip short of Elk Lake, making it to U.S. Highway 20 west of Sisters, where the Binders’ parents picked them up.
“It was really rewarding,” Shiloh said of the rescue. “It was the first time in the field I really used all my different mapping skills, first aid, first responder-type skills all wrapped into one.”
Thomason said he connected with Shiloh, Marah and Caden through social media, and was able to thank them for their heroic efforts.