Host: Welcome back to the second part of this two-part episode of Miracle on Mt. Hood. If you haven’t already listened to part one, pause here and do that now. Also a warning: This episode includes discussion of suicidal thoughts.
But first, a word from our sponsor.
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I made a decision to survive. You’re in that survival mode. The idea of dying wasn’t in my head. I knew immediately it was a worst-case scenario. I was in a fight-for-my-life situation. Whenever you walk out on these trails, you’re in their house. Out Alive Trailer:
Host: I’m Louisa Albanese, and you’re listening to Out Alive by Backpacker. In each episode of this podcast, we’ll bring you real stories of real people who survived the unsurvivable. I saw the rope zip through the repel ring, and I couldn’t do anything. Learn what went wrong, what went right, and how you can escape if the worst-case scenario happens to you. There is no way we would find anybody alive.
The spring of 2013, college student Mary Grimm became lost in a whiteout on Oregon’s Mt. Hood. After hiking through snow and ice for some 16 hours, she fell nearly 40 feet on a steep slope, pinballing off trees and badly injuring her leg. She was alone with little food and desperately underequipped for the conditions.
Nobody knew where she was. Her cell phone didn’t have reception on the mountain, but she had a camera that she used to record a video message for her family and friends, so they would know what happened to her.
Mary Grimm: Mom and Dad, I love you. And I’m really sorry that I went alone solo like you guys always told me not to do. I love you, Elijah. Love you. Ruthy. Love you, Jessica. I love you, Rachel, and Josh and Jacksie. I’m not really scared to die. I guess I’m a little upset for being so stupid. But I love you all, so I’m not really sure how much longer I’m out here for. It’d be cool not to die right now, but I think I’m ready for it. Love you all. Tell the lady out in Nantucket that I won’t be able to work for her for the summer. Tell my friends I love them. That’s about it. God is good. Even though He hasn’t answered very many of my prayers recently. At least not on this trip. That’s what I get for being stubborn. Oh, bye. I love you.
Looking back, it was a hard space to just, in a few moments, have to process. The reality of what your life leaves if you leave it, and all the things that I had left partially done or undone and the people I would’ve liked to see one more time or the, or say one last thing to.
I made the video and turned it off, and I was like, “Okay, well, this is where people die.” And so I just hunkered down, conserved my heat and kind of waited for what’s that gonna be like. The stories when people get hypothermic and they die, they start to feel really sleepy and they drift off, and it’s warm, and they don’t remember anything, and then they’re gone. I definitely wasn’t feeling warm. I was shaking, spasming uncontrollably, my muscles were, because I was so cold, and I was just breathing into that space inside of my jacket, trying to use all the heat that I had. I was dozing in and out. I had this dream that there was a pathway that I’d missed that went right around the edge of the mountain there, and that I could just get up and get off the mountain real easy. I actually got up and then I was like, “Oh no, because I just wasted so much body heat.” So I sat down again and got myself hunkered down and situated and stayed in that half in and out of sleep and trying to stay warm and just shaking like crazy.
Host: Mary had grown up a devout Christian and was planning to go into long-term missionary service after graduating from college. In all of her outdoor adventures as a young woman, her faith had been a guiding force. So when she woke up on Monday, very cold, but still alive, she did what came naturally to her. She prayed.
Mary Grimm: And that was where I realized that God wasn’t there. I panicked. I got really, really scared and I was just like, “Okay, God, I know you must be there,” but it was really the first time in my life where I have not known that He is. I know that sounds weird, but there’s a difference between talking to God and believing that He’s there.
And when somebody’s standing next to you and you know they’re there, you have this kind of peripheral sense of their presence next to you, you don’t need to be talking to them. You don’t need to be dialoging with them, for them to actually be there. They’re just there. For me, all my life, since I could conceptualize the idea of God, I had had this sense of His presence, like this person right next to me here. All of a sudden that was gone.
That was truly the scariest part about being out there. But I was like, “Okay, well, I’m here. I gotta get off this mountain.” So I packed my stuff together and I took a look at the wound in my leg because I actually had a big old gash in my inner thigh area there. It was probably about 6, 8 inches long and about an inch or so wide.
And mostly there was red tissue and fat. I just covered it back over with tights, as tight as it could be. I was like, “I’m not gonna mess with that because I don’t know what to do, and it’s not bleeding, so that’s good.” And then I got up and tried to take a step and I stumbled forward and punched down into the 4-foot snow off of my little platform that I’d hammered out for myself.
And it probably took me about 20 minutes to get myself back up onto that platform. I realized that my other foot was sprained, my right foot, because I tried to put my weight on it and it, and it rolled and tipped me over into the snow. And so then I realized, okay, I’ve got my left leg has a big gash in it, my right foot is sprained.
I’m out here in the snow. According to my climbing report, they should be looking for me. I’m in a pretty good visibility place on the side of this canyon wall. I should stay put because they’re gonna be looking for me today. If I drop any lower into this canyon, I’m gonna go under the treeline and they’re not gonna be able to find me.
I decided to stay in my little shell that I’d hollowed out there to wait and sat there and spent hours going back and forth between shouting out, physically calling out in case there was anybody out there looking for me, and spiritually calling out, trying to connect to something, trying to get God to be there.
Host: The weather had improved since Sunday, but there was still a low cover of clouds along with occasional snow flurries. Mary spent her day trying to melt snow in her water bottle by breathing hot air into it, so she’d have a few more drops to drink. At one point, it rained, and she used her poncho to collect the water.
That night, she fell into an uneasy sleep dreaming of making it down and being rescued. When Don came on Tuesday, small avalanches had become cascading down the mountains, some pelting her with snow. She decided she had to move to a spot where she’d be less exposed.
Mary Grimm: I balled my hands up in my tarp and started crab-crawling my way across the snow to get out from under the canyon wall.
I was very slow because I was really, really low on energy, and I could only go a few meters and then have to take a breather. I got about halfway to my destination in mind, and I had to stop cause I just had nothing left in my system. At this point, I was rationing me Keebler bars and my Nutri-Grain bars.
So Monday I’d eaten one Keebler cracker bar and one Nutri-Grain bar. Tuesday morning I ate one Keebler cracker bar and one Nutri-Grain bar. I had another set left for the next day, and that was it. I kind of walked myself across the snow and carved out another little shelf and hunkered down in that because I was just too tired to keep moving. I kept up the same routine where all day long; I was just shouting out in case somebody was looking for me, watching the canyon wall crumble, listening to the sound of the stream, and trying to connect to God and not having any kind of response.
I was thinking about just ending it, throwing myself down off the lip of that snow shelf, down the steep drop into the canyon and just being done with it. But then I was like, “But then what comes after? I mean, if God’s not there, what happens?” Tuesday night I was starting to really feel the dehydration.
That night I dreamt that this cowboy came down off the mountain and offered me to come back with him to their little Sherpa resort that they had there, and there would be water. And I was like, “Okay, well, sure. If you can bring a horse or something to carry me, because I can’t really walk very well.”
And he was like, “Okay, I’ll do that.” So he left and never came back, and I started to get really mad. I know this sounds really weird, but it felt like every night, my mind went into over gear, just trying to solve my problem for me. So every time I doze into sleep, my mind’s like, “Okay, we can fix this, and would come up with some solution.”
Wednesday morning, I woke up, and again, the snow was still crumbling off the canyon wall, into my little dig out there. So I kept on moving. I kept crabwalking my way down the ridgeline toward where the trees were. That’s what I was heading for, and I got about halfway there. Then I just gassed out.
I had nothing left, and so again, I carved out a little shelf for myself and had my Keebler crackers and my Nutri-Grain bar and hunkered down.
Host: Mary had reached another low point emotionally, once again, she began to think about taking her own life.
Mary Grimm: I had considered just ending it and being done with it.
Because I was so cold and so in pain and so alone. And so at a loss as to what to do as far as God not being there. I considered suffocating myself and being done, but there were two things. One was, when I thought about that, and I was considering it, I was thinking about what if they are looking for me? And what if they find me? And what if they find me just hours after I end it? And they realize that—my family realizes that I chose to put an end to my life. When, if I had hung in there for a couple more hours, they would’ve found me like, what would that do to my parents to know that, to my siblings and my friends.
So there was that thought. And then there was also just this knowledge of the life that was inside of me. It was this horrible, bright burning little ball of light that just would not go out no matter how much I wished that it would just give me peace and let me be done, but it wouldn’t go out.
And so I was like, “Okay, well that’s apparently not an option for me.”
Host: Each night Mary’s dreams grew more outlandish. In her exhausted state, they led to half-awake hallucinations.
Mary Grimm: There was this dream where the Jonas Brothers, who I actually still have no idea what they look like, but in my dream they were there and they’re like, “We’re heading down the mountain. We can take you with us when we go.” And I was like, “Oh, thanks.” And so they’re like, “Okay, we’ll pack up your stuff.” And then I actually did pack up my stuff and then woke out of the dream, and I was packed, and I was like, “Well, I guess I should get moving because it was morning.” I made it down onto the ridgeline shelf there and made it down onto dirt, which felt so good.
And the sun came out for the first time and the dirt was warm and I was able to put out a couple bottles and melt the snow in them and actually take full drinks of water. And I started a little fire, and I took off my gloves , and warmed up my hands. I didn’t dare take my shoes off because I didn’t wanna look at what my feet might look like at that point.
I knew they weren’t okay. At this point I was like, “It’s been days and days and there’s been nobody looking for me. I haven’t seen a search plan. I haven’t heard anybody, nobody’s been responding when I call or anything like that, and the only like sign of humans that I’ve seen at all are the airplanes flying into Portland International.”
And that was bizarre to be there on that snow slope with hundreds of people up in the air above you, none of them aware of you and all of them going on about their lives. And just feel so deeply disconnected from the rest of humanity. Like so very, very, very alone. And by this time I was out of Keebler crackers and Nutri-Grain.
I just had a little bit of chia seed and I figured, well, I’ve fasted for a weekend at least before, so I’ll just save this until I need it.
Host: Mary had a reputation as a free spirit. So when no one had seen her for the first few days of spring break, her friends weren’t concerned. It was typical Mary. But as the week continued, her roommates began to wonder if something might actually be wrong.
So they called Mary’s mom and dad, Shelly and Bruce. Here’s Bruce.
Bruce Owen: I hadn’t really heard anything from Mary during that spring break week, but I didn’t really expect to because she had these plans, and she was gonna do what she was gonna do, and I figured I would see her when we came back to school and that was that.
So on Thursday of the week of spring break, I had called Shelly. She said, “Oh, by the way, Mary’s roommate called and wanted to know if we had heard anything from her. So I called her and got into this conversation that Mary had emailed either her or one of, one of her group of friends and said Saturday or Sunday, she was gonna climb Mt. Hood and that she should be back on Monday.
And that she wasn’t sure if anybody had heard from her since then. And it was now Thursday afternoon, and she had not contacted anybody. I said we have to file a missing persons report because nobody knows where she is. I also didn’t think that she had climbed Mt. Hood because she had promised me she wouldn’t do it alone.
Host: We’ll be right back.
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Host: As Mary’s physical and mental state deteriorated further, she had another strange hallucination on Thursday night, just as she was falling asleep.
Mary Grimm: So this voice was like, “You need to get off of this ridgeline,” and introduced itself as like the trench cat. And I was like, “Okay, trench, cat. Cool.” And the trench cat said “You have to get off this ridgeline, and you’re gonna die. You need to get yourself down into that little break of trees.” That night I was dreaming in and out, and it was almost like different parts of my mind were offering different solutions for what I needed. I was really in my mind trying to work the situation and change it and fix it in whatever way I could.
Host: Meanwhile, the search for Mary was finally underway.
Bruce Owen: And in the middle of the night, the phone rang. I remember immediately thinking a phone call is good. A knock on the door is bad because nobody gives you horrible news over the phone. They would come to the house. So I answered the phone and they said that they had located the vehicle in the parking lot at Timberline Lodge.
It had been warming during the week, and so there wasn’t really snow and ice in the parking lot at Timberline, but under her vehicle, there was. They knew that that vehicle had been parked there for a number of days. And they said that they were gonna be having a meeting in the morning to decide whether or not a search and rescue was gonna mount a search because they really didn’t know anything about where she was other than that’s where the vehicle was. All during this time, somehow this is now blowing up on Facebook. Part of that is because I have been so vocal on Facebook, trying to find anybody who knew anything about her. So friends and family and everybody who knows her had been seeing the story and thinking about it and praying about it. And it was starting to snowball.
Mary Grimm: Friday morning, I woke up and the very first thing that happened was that God spoke to me and said, “Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or what you will drink or what you will wear tomorrow.” It was like the whole world went right back into 3-D, full-color lights back on in a moment. Like I knew that He was there and that I was going to be okay. And well, well, very emotional for me. And the second thing that He told me was that there were thousands of people praying for me. And I got up that morning and I was just like, “I’m gonna be okay. God’s back, and it’s gonna be all right, whatever else happens.”
Bruce Owen: They really didn’t know anything about where she was other than that’s where the vehicle was. They didn’t know if she was climbing Mt. Hood, which I was convinced she wasn’t.
They had found out that she had stopped at a couple of places. She stopped for gas and she stopped at REI. She bought an ice ax. It became clear that she was intent on climbing. And so at that point, they were focusing all their efforts on the mountain.
Mary Grimm: Friday afternoon, I saw the first search plane. They came right down the canyon, and they circled above me. And I was sure that they had seen me. They circled three times around the location where I was, and I was waving my hands and yelling. And I was just certain that they’d seen me because God had told me it was gonna be okay. And so I was yelling and shouting out and then the plane took off down the valley and did this little wing tilt thing.
And I was like, okay, they’re signaling me that they’ve seen me, obviously they’re a plane, so they can’t land. So they’ve gotta go get their team to come and pick me up.
Bruce Owen: We had decided that the next day we would go up to Mt. Hood. They had had a small search and rescue party out that Friday night. They had also a search plane that also had not located any signs of her whereabouts. And so were going up there the next day.
Mary Grimm: So I sat up there. I again, climbed out of the treeline out onto the ridge and sat there until it grew dark. And I was yelling out in case they were bringing a search team up the canyon, so they’d be able to locate me better, and it grew darker and darker. I started to realize they’re not gonna come for me tonight.
Bruce Owen: There was a comment from a friend of ours from Southern Oregon expressing her support for us. And this family had lost their son in a tragic outdoor accident not, not very long before. And I don’t know that I could do that. If I had lost my child, that I could express that kind of hope and faith, and to give moral support to another family that was going through an awful situation. It was really at that moment that I confronted in myself for the first time that Mary might not be alive.
Mary Grimm: I was thinking, maybe they don’t want to go out in the dark. Maybe they’re afraid of losing more people, something. I was feeling pretty discouraged, and then as I was sitting out there on the ridgeline, the stars came out. For me, it’s kind of a interesting thing.
As a child, my mom would take us stargazing and she introduced us to all the different constellations, their names and their stories, and so that night, sitting out there on that ridgeline and starting to feel really discouraged and confused, just having the stars come out. It was almost like having somebody come up, give you a hug, and being like, “it’s gonna be okay.”
And Saturday morning, I woke up really early before the sun hit where I was, because I was on the west side of the mountain. So the sun comes up on the other side of the mountain and you can see the shadow of the mountain reaching out over the valley, over Portland. I got up, I packed everything up and I took down the little, I had made this little flag that I’d hung up in trying to signal somebody. But I was like, okay, well they know where I am and I’m gonna—today’s the day.
Host: While Mary waited to be rescued, the Oregon National Guard helicopter crew were deployed to help in the search effort.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: My name is Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb. I am a pilot with the Oregon Army National Guard. I got a call from my boss saying that there was a lost hiker. They believed out on Hood somewhere. It was during a storm and the details were fairly sparse that it was a female young lady. I remember that we were told that she, they had tracked her purchases and she had just been at REI a couple days earlier, buying some climbing gear. So, which indicated that she’s probably pretty new at climbing and that she had been gone missing for five or six days. So honestly we weren’t real optimistic at the details that we received.
Mary Grimm: So I took down my little flag, and I packed everything in my backpack and I sat out on the ridgeline and singing, as well with my soul.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: Shortly after maybe 10, 15 minutes of hunting, we did find some tracks that we believed might be hers. And then we just slowly continued down and just outta the corner of my eye, I saw something moving.
Mary Grimm: Right as the sun hit me coming up over the mountain, I heard that sound that I’d been waiting for for so long, which was the blades of the helicopter, like that deep [helicopter sound].
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: Crews over there looked, it was Mary in a tree well.
Bruce Owen: I stepped out of the side of the van and there came to this really tall guy in uniform. He was in charge of the rescue effort. I introduced myself and he said, “Oh, I’m glad you’re here. The helicopter is just over somebody now matching Mary’s description, and we’ll know something here in a minute.”
He didn’t say anything about whether the person was alive or moving. And so we all gathered together in the parking lot and prayed.
Mary Grimm: And they came straight down the canyon and came right over the top of me and turned around. So their helicopter was facing me.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: And of course she was wearing a dark green poncho, which made even harder to see, had wind been up there, moving the branches around, we probably wouldn’t have even seen her.
Bruce Owen: I wish that I would’ve had the composure to pray something more eloquent than I did, which was just over and over again, “Please, God, let it be her. Please, God.”
Mary Grimm: I could see guys like waving inside of the cockpit there, but at this point I was kind of freaked out because of the plane the other day.
And so I was just screaming and waving and being like, “Please come for me, come for me. Don’t leave me.”
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: So it was just perfect conditions, a little bit of luck. We had a really good crew that day. And then we were able to get a call off that we found somebody.
Bruce Owen: A short time later, he came back to us and said, “It is her and she’s alive.” I collapsed to my knees at that point. When they found her, they were in a place where they couldn’t get a radio signal, so they needed to rise up out of the canyon where they were. They also said that they needed to compose themselves because they were just overjoyed that she was there, and she was alive, and it’s all too often not the outcome.
Mary Grimm: It was really interesting that up to that point, all through the time I’d been out there, I hadn’t really let fears or what ifs or things crowd in around me. Like it all hit, it all been just very practical of like, okay, what, here I am, what can I do? But then right in those couple of moments while they were preparing for the rescue, all these fears came in. Like, what if they haven’t seen me? What if they fly away? What if all this stuff? And then the helicopter came back into the canyon and it started lowering this guy on a line.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: It’s probably about 150 foot hoist down, we lowered our medic. We didn’t realize how deep the snow was there. It went; he went right down to his waist.
Mary Grimm: They landed him on the ridgeline above me, so he was out of sight for a minute. And I was like, “what if he’s like fallen into the snow and he can’t get out and I’m not gonna make it out?” And all these really unreasonable fears, just sort of flocking in at the last moment, and then he came up over the burm so I could see him, and he called down to me. He goes, “Are you Mary Owen?” And the thought flashed across my mind. I was like, “Well, what if I’m not?” I was like, “Yes!” And, and he’s like, “Can you make it up to me?”
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: The fact that she was standing, and not what we call Popsicle, that she was able to move and get to the helicopter and get on board was quite remarkable.
Mary Grimm: He gestured to where the anchor for the helicopter line was. And you goes, “We’ve gotta make it over to there. Can you make it?” And I was like, “Yeah, I think so.” And he goes, “You want me to carry you?” And I was like, “No, I can do it.” And so I started crawling along the snow to the anchor and God bless this man’s heart, he got down on his hands and knees and was crawling along beside me. And I just thought that was so kind.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: We had to get her loaded up on our rescue seat and then lift her into the helicopter.
Mary Grimm: So they lifted us up off the snow, and we went swinging out over the canyon on this line.
And I was grinning from ear to ear, all of the questioning, and all of the doubting and all of the pain was over. I was gonna be okay. And there was so much relief and so much joy and so much just everything coursing through my system, I felt like just letting out a whoop, but I felt like that wouldn’t be very respectful, and they probably get the wrong idea, and think that I was just like some crazy person.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Edgecomb: Crew immediately went into first aid mode, and we carry a paramedic on board.
She was in surprisingly good condition. So I think she had some like trail bars or a little bit of food, but not much. Probably really wasn’t prepared for what she was going to encounter.
Mary Grimm: The medic, the guy who had picked me up in the snow there, took a look at my feet.
They were swollen and black, really awful looking and took a look at the gash on my leg, and he also just covered it back over again. And he didn’t do anything to it. And I asked for some water, and I asked them if my parents knew that I was okay. And they said, yes, they know.
Bruce Owen: We’re on the phone telling people that she had been found.
Mary Grimm: And they rolled me on a stretcher, into their receiving room there, and that medic walked with the stretcher all the way to the room there.
Bruce Owen: The first thing that Mary said to me was, “I’m so sorry, dad,” as she had broken her promise to me.
Mary Grimm: There was a sheriff there and he asked me to tell the whole story.
And there were a couple of things that were kind of interesting because in their search they had followed the national guard helicopter—or the search plane the night before had seen a sleeping bag print on the top of the mountain there on the summit.
Bruce Owen: And he insisted that she had summited and that they had followed her tracks from the summit right down to where she was.
She didn’t have a sleeping bag, and she was unable to follow her own tracks down.
Mary Grimm: And he’s like, “well, somebody went down there.” And I was the only one down there. Like I never saw another soul.
Bruce Owen: We agreed that, that God had answered our prayers, and God had sent an angel who let them know where she was.
I often hear these angel stories that people say, and I am dubious. But I didn’t have any other explanation for it.
Mary Grimm: Going through that experience, and being so close to death, and then in the aftermath, seeing the impact on my family and like the first night that we were able to come home, which was two weeks after I had been hospitalized, we actually got to come back to my parents’ house and we were sitting at the dinner table there and there was this moment, and it was very quiet where myself and my dad and my mom, it just hit us all at once.
We came so close to our family being irrevocably shattered, like to have this gaping hole where one of us was, it was a really sober moment. It was a really powerful moment for me. It really brought home to me, just the reality that like, all of our lives are so deeply interconnected with the people around us.
That year, I met the man that I am now married to. Two years later, we came back and we hiked Mt. Hood together, and we summited. We had a beautiful ascent. And honestly, I wasn’t really equipped much more than with what I had when I attempted my as initial ascent. But the point wasn’t like, don’t go out and do things that could potentially be dangerous.
The point was was that our lives are precious and that we live with essentially with the permission and the blessing of God. When we are alive, when we draw breath, it is because He wants us to be alive. And he loves us.
Host: In the months after Mary’s rescue, numerous stories were written about what she went through. To her and her family’s disappointment, those stories largely ignored the miracle that they believed had taken place. That God had sent an angel to guide the rescuers to her.
Bruce Owen: And that God was acting not only in, in her preservation, but in the lives of other people who were all connected with that story. People can believe that or not, but it’s our story. It’s what we experienced. And it’s true.
Host: This episode of Out Alive was written and produced by me, Louisa Albanese, with Zoe Gates and Corey Buhay, and editing by Michael Roberts. This episode was sound designed and scored by Jason Patton. Thank you to Mary Grimm, Bruce Owen and Lieutenant Nathaniel Edgecomb for stories and perspectives. Mary, her mother, Shelly, and father, Bruce, co-wrote a book about their experience called Mountain Rescue, which you can check out at mountainrescue.online. Out Alive is made possible by members of Outside+. Learn more about all the benefits of membership at backpacker.com/outsideplus. If you enjoyed this episode of Out Alive, please subscribe and leave us a review.