Lost hiker reunites with family and
recounts his ordeal
August 3, 2007
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A cell phone, a trickle of water and
senses-calming faith helped an Illinois man and his dog pull through
a frightening two days in the foothills west of Fort
Roger Baird emerged from
the woods in Pingree Park Thursday morning to a relieved gathering
of 30 family members and friends at the Browns Lake
That was the spot at
which Baird, an experienced hiker, made a costly mistake Tuesday
"I knew Browns Lake was to
the east, but I headed west," Baird, 63, said in the condominium he
owns in Greeley Thursday evening. "I just didn't look at my
Baird and McKinley, his
9-year-old golden retriever, strolled off at 8 a.m. Tuesday on what
turned out to be a Forest Service road headed in the wrong
direction. After about 50 minutes, he knew something was wrong and
turned around. But heading down another forest road only made him
more disoriented. By 5 p.m. Tuesday, Baird knew he was
He dialed 911 on his cell
"The first time I got through
to 911 I thought, 'yes.' But then when (the operator) couldn't hear
me I thought 'no,'" Baird said. "As long as I had battery power I
He made camp and
gathered wood that he used to spell out S.O.S. in a fire signal.
Besides the phone, he had four granola bars, two beef jerky sticks
and three 25-year-old bouillon cubes in his survival
"I just decided to stay there,"
he said. "I figured ... I could be here a day, two days, a week. Who
He had traveled with his
wife, Kathy, from Rockford, Ill., to Colorado for a short trip a
week earlier. They stayed at the condominium, which is used during
the school year by their daughter Janey, a senior at the University
of Northern Colorado. On Monday, Kathy left for an emergency trip to
Phoenix, where her mother was being treated for an
"He called me that night
and said he was going out on a hike (the next day)," Kathy said. "I
said, 'Please don't do that and give me something else to worry
about.' ... He didn't intend to."
Her worry escalated by 4 p.m. when Baird, good about
checking in, especially since he was concerned about his
mother-in-law, hadn't called. Kathy tried his cell phone, which was
She contacted the
Larimer County Sheriff's Office and about 10 p.m. Tuesday he was
declared missing. An intensive search began about 2:30 a.m.
Wednesday after Justin Whitesell of the Larimer Sheriff's Office of
Emergency Services found Baird's SUV at the trailhead parking
The search grew to about 45
people, including searchers from Larimer County Search and Rescue,
Larimer Sheriff's Office Emergency Services and Arapahoe Rescue
Patrol in Denver. A helicopter from Warren Air Force Base in
Cheyenne joined the search Wednesday morning.
Mike Fink, Larimer County Search and Rescue spokesman,
said Baird was well prepared to be in the woods.
"There's a lot of roads up there and he just never found
the road that managed to get him back to his car," he
Meanwhile, Baird's two
daughters arrived from Illinois, a son flew in from Seattle, his
wife flew back from Phoenix, and a brother flew in from Spokane,
"I had a water supply and when
I'd get anxious and start to worry I'd pray, and then I'd start to
feel better," Baird said.
Thursday morning, he walked to a clearing and tried the cell phone
again. This time he had a signal.
"The operator said, 'Are you one of the searchers?' I
said, 'No, I'm the lost hiker.' And she said, 'Oh, good,'" Baird
About 10 a.m. Thursday, a
Civil Air Patrol plane flew over Baird, guided in by the smoke from
the fire he'd started in the clearing. Minutes later, searchers
arrived in trucks to drive him out.
McKinley has a bad left leg and was limping early in the
ordeal, Baird said. "He's just tired. More tired than
Baird said his family, some of
whom joined him on a trip to Browns Lake 20 years ago, likes to make
fun of the survival gear he takes on hikes.
"And now we're glad he does," Kathy said.