Injured climber Derek Mamoyac, who survived five days on Mount Adams by crawling through the cold nights and eating insects, was rescued after searchers discovered clues that included a folding toothbrush, granola wrappers and drag marks along the trail.

Share story




After looking for a missing climber on Mount Adams for five hours Friday, searcher Greg Varney found his first clues: a knife case, a folding toothbrush and granola wrappers.

Varney wasn’t quite sure what to make of these finds, but soon focused his attention on a series of odd tracks. Someone — or something — had left drag marks along the 6,200-foot level of a mountain trail.

Varney’s search dog, a golden retriever named Trulee, wasn’t picking up any human scents in the still-warm air. But Varney, driven by what he would later call a mix of inspiration and desperation, began to call out the name of Derek Mamoyac, the 27-year-old Oregonian who had disappeared after setting out to ascend the 12,276-foot peak five days earlier.

Varney heard a faint reply about 100 yards away. Varney scurried down the trail to offer power bars, water and oatmeal to an injured Mamoyac, capping a remarkable rescue on Washington’s second-highest mountain.

“I have found people who have been missing for several hours or a day,” said Varney, an engineer from Issaquah who volunteers for King County Search Dogs. “But I have never been part of something of this gravity, where you have someone who has been on the side of a mountain for five days.”

Mamoyac’s ordeal started the afternoon of Oct. 12 as he retreated down the mountain amid a snow squall, then lost his footing and tumbled down a slope. He fractured his ankle, leaving him unable to walk.

So he spent his days crawling and dragging himself about the mountain, surviving subfreezing night temperatures. After devouring his stash of granola bars, he ate ants, centipedes, a spider and berries.

Mamoyac, who has yet to grant interviews, is recovering at Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center in Portland. In addition to his ankle problems, he suffered serious frostbite on his bottom, where his flesh was exposed after his snow pants tore open.

“The fact that he survived five frigid nights in the condition he was in — it’s just incredible,” said Steve Mamoyac, the climber’s father.

May have used survival-TV tips

Steve Mamoyac, an Oregon state biologist, said his son grew up in a family steeped in the outdoors. From an early age, Derek Mamoyac relished long hikes in the mountains and showed an unusual tolerance for the physical discomforts.

As a young man, he has enjoyed survival shows that have become a staple of reality TV. His father thinks that Mamoyac might have picked up a few tips that might have helped him stay alive on Mount Adams.

Mamoyac likes to travel light on quick ascents of Northwest peaks.

Earlier this year, he climbed Mount Shasta in Northern California and Mount Hood in Oregon. He planned a swift day’s ascent of Mount Adams that would get him back to his car Sunday evening, and back at his job handling freight at Fred Meyer in Corvallis, Ore., by Monday, according to Steve Mamoyac.

Mamoyac had a warm winter jacket, gloves, a hat and snow pants, according to his father.

Mount Adams’ southern approach is not considered a technical climb. But the U.S. Forest Service warns that storms can change conditions drastically at any time of year above the 6,000-foot level.

That’s what happened to Mamoyac as he approached a false summit at 11,657 feet and then was forced by the storm to start back down the mountain. During the descent, Mamoyac’s crampon-clad boots slipped on a patch of fresh snow with a harder pack underneath. He then tumbled down the mountain, perhaps as far as 1,000 feet, his father said. In addition to his injuries, one of two water bottles was torn apart and emptied.

Climber tried to keep moving

In the five days that followed, Mamoyac was never able to walk upright. He crawled on his hands and knees, and also scooted along on his bottom, often a difficult task through lava rock, according to Steve Mamoyac.

Mamoyac tried to keep moving during the cold nights and to take only brief naps during the warmth of the day.

“He did it when he felt it was safe — knowing that if you fall asleep under certain conditions, it might be your last [sleep],” Steve Mamoyac said.

At one point, Mamoyac saw what he thought were tents higher up the mountain. So he ate a precious granola bar for energy and made his way up to the area only to find he was mistaken. Then, he had to crawl back down the mountain to warmer temperatures, his father said.

Mamoyac was found resting in the afternoon sun on a trail that circles the mountain, more than five miles from his car, according to Varney.

He was airlifted off the mountain by helicopter Friday and taken to Legacy Emanuel, where he has been treated for ankle injuries, frostbite and dehydration.

“We absolutely commend and appreciate everyone who came out to look for him,” Steve Mamoyac said. “All the volunteers — his friends. … We knew that there was a very good chance this would not be a happy ending.”

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com