How an Ultrarunner Saved a Lost Hiker’s Life

In June of 2020, Jeremy Humphrey used his intimate knowledge of his local mountain range to rescue a missing hiker.

Photo: Sally Deng

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Listen to Jeremy Humphrey’s story in his own words in Out Alive.

From high on the ridge, I raised my binoculars and scanned the jumble of fallen trees and granite slabs below. A few blackened trunks stood bare from a wildfire that tore through this part of Idaho 20 years ago, and scorched timber littered the landscape like piles of toothpicks. I’d already run 17 miles over these blowdowns today, and fatigue was beginning to set in. “Laura!” I shouted into the valley. No response. 

I’d woken up early this morning planning to go on a long run along the Crestline, the chain of mountains near my home in McCall, Idaho. As I suited up for my run, my wife showed me a Facebook post from the local sheriff’s office: A hiker was missing in the area. I was headed out anyway, so I figured I might as well help search. 

Around 7:30 a.m., I called the sheriff’s office. “I’m a runner,” I told them. “Can you tell me where you have teams searching?” Not wanting to set off a second rescue, the sergeant was reluctant at first. I know the Crestline like the back of my hand, I told her, and am used to covering dozens of miles in a day. Plus, I packed my Garmin inReach and cellphone, knowing I’d have service on the high ridges. I promised to check in with the rescue team throughout the day. 

The hiker’s car was parked at the Pearl Lake trailhead on the northern end of the Crestline. She’d been reported missing the day before, but I’d learn later that she’d been lost for nearly a full week. The sheriff’s office had told me that her name was Laura and she liked to camp alone by bodies of water. I decided to approach from the south, planning to run the length of the mountain chain, visiting every remote lake I could until I found her.

I considered turning back to my car, which would make it a 35-mile day. But something told me to keep looking. 

The distance—at least 20 miles, depending on where my search took me—was routine, but I felt more focused than usual. My willingness to push myself was heightened: For once, my running wasn’t selfish.

As a runner, hunter, and director of a local mountain running race, I’ve spent countless hours exploring the Crestline. I’m comfortable there. While I had faith in the SAR team, I knew that, as an individual, I could move more quickly and cover more ground. I’d decided to travel on the margins of the SAR operation, supplementing their search range. In my gut, I knew I was the right person for the job. 

A few hours in, I’d already visited a handful of lakes and had seen no sign of the missing hiker. I considered turning back to my car, which would make it a 35-mile day. But something told me to keep looking. “You’re close,” said a voice in my head. “You’re going to find her.” 

Fifteen years ago, I lost my dad in a mountaineering accident. He had always wished for me to be a runner, and his death inspired me to get back into the sport. Today, I had the chance to use my running skills to make sure this missing hiker didn’t suffer a similar fate to my dad’s. I pulled out my map and made a last-ditch plan. 

I noted any blue marks on the map, including unnamed lakes and even dinky potholes; I’d check them all, relying on my hunting and tracking experience to spot any signs of Laura. First, I needed to get higher. I scrambled up the steep granite slopes of 8,755-foot Mt. Rain, glassing the fire-scarred land with my binoculars. Below, I spotted a small lake. That was the one. I could feel it. 

I dropped down, planning to head toward the lake and veer south. I shouted her name as I ran. And then I heard a voice. “Laura?” I called. “Are you Laura?”

I wove through the trees toward the lake. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear someone. Was it her? I followed the sound, pumping with adrenaline. Then, I broke into a dead sprint, jumping over fallen trees like hurdles. The lake—a muddy puddle, really—appeared, and then a dog and a woman, her face badly burnt by the sun. “Please tell me you’re Laura?” 

“Yes, I’m Laura,” she said. Relief coursed through my body. It was over.