Employing shrewd survival skills after badly breaking her leg while hiking famed Mt. Hood, a plucky Portland, Ore., preschool teacher survived three cold nights in the wild, using moss for a blanket and making a meal out of bugs and slugs until searchers finally found her.
"I didn’t realize I had it in me … I definitely surprised myself," 28-year-old Pamela Salant told NBC News in a TODAY report Tuesday by Miguel Almaguer. "I just really felt like I wasn’t done yet."
Salant was planning an idyllic weekend with her boyfriend Aric Essig when the pair headed out for an overnight hike at Mt. Hood’s Bear Lake July 30. The couple dumped their gear at a campsite, but decided to split up and look around for an even better locale to spend the night.
But things went decidedly downhill from there for Salant. While hiking solo, she slipped and fell nearly 50 feet off a cliff. She fractured her left tibia and her leg was split open.
‘Where am I?’
Salant settled in where she fell, initially not realizing just how badly she was hurt. "I didn’t feel the initial pain, so I woke up the next morning and [was] like ‘Whoa, where am I, how did this happen?’ " she told NBC. "I had fallen asleep right where I had fallen."
Boyfriend Aric reported his girlfriend missing, but rescue workers were stymied in their search. Authorities initially found Salant’s shoe prints from where she fell, but no Salant.
The reason? The gutsy schoolteacher was scooting on her backside alongside Lindsey Creek trying to reach the Columbia River, where she figured she had a better chance of being spotted and rescued. Meanwhile, Salant battled for survival, clad only in a tank top and shorts and woefully short of any supplies.
To keep water at hand, she stayed near the creek. For sustenance, she found salmon berries and raspberries. But as one day turned into another, her improvised menu became a bit wilder.
"I was trying caterpillars, and I tried a bite of a slug," Salant told NBC. "I didn’t know, I was just like, it was plump and juicy. It looked tasty. But it was not tasty!"
Tiring and barely able to scoot any further, Salant said she passed the time mentally replaying her life, wondering if the thoughts might be her last. "I just had a lot of people that I loved, like faces in my head, and just kind of [put] my life on rewind."
Salant tried to keep her hopes up through four days and three nights in the wilderness. She managed to scoot a mile and a half, but unfortunately, a nearby waterfall muffled the sounds of rescue helicopters when they began to zero in on her, leaving Salant oblivious to their effort.
Then, on Aug. 2, she got a big break. A helicopter crew spotted a woman wading in Lindsey Creek, waving her arms. A National Guard helicopter arrived on the scene and lowered a guardsman to Salant.
Salant admitted she wasn’t sure whether she was actually being rescued, or just dreaming. "I was like hyperventilating, like I can’t believe it’s real."
But it was real: Salant's nearly 96-hour ordeal was over. She was transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where doctors operated on her broken leg and treated her for multiple back injuries and severe cuts, NBC affiliate KGW-TV reported. A day after being rescued, her condition was upgraded from critical to fair.
And though Salant is expected to be out of commission for two months while she nurses her injuries, her concerned friends and family are thankful Salant returned to them in one piece, and in awe of her determination.
"So that was Saturday, Sunday, Monday night — three nights," her friend and co-worker Desirae Marks told KGW. "She’s strong enough, she’s got it. Oh my gosh!"