PORT ANGELES — Sajean Geer had taken her terrier-Chihuahua, Yoda, with her to Obstruction Point Road, one of her husband’s favorite places in the world, to spread the remaining part of his ashes.
The 71-year-old had already scattered some on the Kona coast of Hawaii’s Big Island and was ready to move on with her life after her husband Jack Geer passed away in December.
“I was just going to go in for a short walk and find a nice place with flowers to scatter his ashes,” she said during an interview at her home Monday. “I scattered his ashes and everything went fine, but I couldn’t find my way back to the road.”
That was July 17.
It wasn’t until Sunday — six days later — that she and Yoda were hoisted out of the Olympic National Park wilderness by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from Port Angeles.
A helicopter from Northwest Helicopters in Olympia spotted her at about 4:20 p.m. Sunday, and shortly after, a search team on the ground made contact with her.
The search was triggered after a ranger who was patrolling found Geer’s vehicle on a pullout on Obstruction Point Road. She had been reported missing Wednesday morning to the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.
On the first day she hiked until about 9 p.m. searching for the road. As it started to get dark, she realized she needed to find shelter for the night and found a big log to sleep under.
When she woke up the next morning, she began searching for the road again, she said. She didn’t understand how she managed to lose the road.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to find that road today,’ ” she said. “This is ridiculous.”
After another full day of hiking without finding her way back, she found another log to sleep under.
It was the third day, Wednesday, when the seriousness of the situation hit her.
“It was [July] 19th in the morning when I woke up and I realized I had to acknowledge that I’m lost and I had made some not very good decisions,” she said.
That’s when Geer went into survival mode. She’s an experienced hiker and had read survival books, so she had a pretty good idea of what she needed to do.
The problem was that she had no survival tools. She didn’t have a knife or even a water bottle.
She focused on finding water, food and shelter, and not injuring herself.
She heard running water and found a stream at the bottom of a ravine, but she knew she couldn’t set up camp in the ravine.
She estimated she and Yoda traveled up and down the ravine three times a day to get water.
“I realized I couldn’t stay down there because they wouldn’t be able to see me,” she said, referring to helicopters she had hoped would be searching for her. “So I climbed up to a place where I could build a shelter.”
She used twigs and logs to build herself a shelter, using moss and other things she found for the roof.
The first night in her shelter it was cold. There were holes in the roof that needed to be fixed, she said.
“Since there wasn’t much to do I started plugging up the holes with moss,” she said. “Because I didn’t have anything to do I just started putting more stuff on there.”
She said having Yoda with her helped her keep a positive attitude and he helped provide warmth at night.
She had water and shelter, but food was scarce. She knew she could eat pine needles and insects.
“This ant was biting me and I said well I have a bigger mouth; I’m going to eat you,” she said. “So I grabbed the ant and ate him.”
While laughing, she said the ant was kind of crunchy and “not bad tasting,” adding she didn’t eat a lot of them.
Yoda also ate insects and would dig up grubs, though food for both of them was pretty slim.
Her top priority was to not get hurt, because if she were injured she wouldn’t be able to get water.
When she first saw the helicopter Sunday she knew it didn’t see her. But then she saw it circle back.
“I thought boy this one is staying around,” she said. “But I could tell they couldn’t see me.”
She jumped onto a log and waved at the helicopter.
It was when people on the helicopter waved back that she knew she was saved.
“I thought ‘they see me, they see me,’” she said. Shortly after, the ground crew reached her and she hugged the first person she saw.
“When I saw that first rescuer I just ran up and hugged him,” she said. “I was so happy to see him.”
She was amazed with everyone who searched for her, calling them all professional and well coordinated.
There were 19 people from the National Park Service, Clallam County Search and Rescue, and Kitsap County Search and Rescue who helped with the search.
She said the experience has made her appreciative of the conveniences of modern society, such as having a faucet in her kitchen.
“We’re so spoiled by it,” she said. “There’s a lot that we take for granted.”
The most important lesson she learned from the experience is that the “most important thing in the world is relationships and love,” she said. “What else is there?”
She also strongly suggests telling people before heading anywhere remote, such as Olympic National Park. She hadn’t told anyone of her trip thinking it would only be a short hike. It wasn’t until Saturday that her vehicle was found.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].