Couple safe after being stranded in wilderness for 5 days

7:10 AM, Sep 7, 2007   |    comments
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They were initially spotted at 10:30 a.m. when searchers saw smoke was coming from a cliff southwest of the Big South Trailhead. Two people were also seen waving.

At 1 p.m., the Civil Air Patrol confirmed 56-year-old Terry Jones and 49-year-old Marion Jones had been found southwest of the Big South Trailhead. That is in the area northwest of Rocky Mountain National Park.

According to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, the Joneses are "tired but in good health." Deputies say once the couple was given food and water, they were able to walk out on their own around 3:45 p.m.

As the couple came down the trail out of the wilderness, Marion Jones raised her arms in triumph. Both she and Terry had big grins.

"We're very lucky, we didn't think it was always going to turn out this way," said Terry Jones.

The couple, who have been together for 28 years, looked and sounded healthy, even though they had been stranded in the wilderness for five days.

The U.S. Park Service says the Joneses' son dropped them off at the Chapin Pass Trailhead, located along the Fall River Road, on Saturday afternoon. They had a backcountry permit to stay at the Flatiron backcountry campsite near Hague Creek on Saturday night.

On Sunday, they were supposed to hike north, via the Cache la Poudre River Trail and Big South Trail out to the Big South Trailhead. They were spotted near Peterson Lake on River Stretch Trail around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, but they never arrived at their car, which was outside of the park at the Big South Trailhead on Highway 14.

"We got lost on the trail," said Marion.

"There's a fork in the trail up below Petersen Lake where you should cross the river and there's nothing there to tell you to cross the river," said Terry.

"We never saw a sign," said Marion.

"We learned that the bridge is washed out," said Terry.

Marion says they had a map, but it did not show that the bridge was gone. The couple says they followed what turned out to be a fisherman's trail that petered out. They circled back and met with two other people who did not have a trail map, but the men told the Joneses to follow the river.

Terry says they followed the river on Sunday night until they decided to make camp. At that point, they believed they were only a few miles from their car.

"We knew where we were the whole time. We were never lost, we were stranded," said Terry.

Marion says they decided to keep going and "that was our mistake. We should have gone back."

The couple says they had been camping on the cliff where they were spotted on Thursday since Monday.

By 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the couple realized they could not get out of that area safely.

"Oh my God, that's when we realized we were really, really in trouble," said Marion.

"We knew that a lot of people were worrying about us," said Terry choking back tears, "so we thought the best plan of action was to stay put."

"We just kind of waited. We didn't have much water the first day because we drank it all by the time we got up there," said Terry.

Terry says they ran out of food on Monday morning so they ate a few mushrooms they found in the wilderness. They also found some berries that were edible.

"The frustrating thing was, we knew we were OK," said Terry.

As they walked through the crowd that greeted them upon their return, both the Joneses kept giving hugs and handshakes. Terry kept saying "I'm sorry."

The couple says a search dog, named Loki, found them initially on Thursday after picking up their scent.

"Did you guys know that a dog can smell you from 15 miles away?" said Marion.

"That dog was awesome," said Terry.

The couple says the two men with the dog came down a cliff to get to them.

Search crews looked up and down the Big South Trailhead and around Pingree Park. Wednesday crews focused their search 10 miles northwest of the original search area. The Larimer County Sheriff's Office says on Thursday, searchers focused their attention on the triangle area from Big South Trailhead, Colorado Hwy. 14 and Long Draw Road.

Rangers say Terry and Marion Jones are experienced backpackers and had the proper gear with them.

"We're totally relieved. There was a few times we weren't sure how it was going to turn out," said Terry. "We're so sorry for all the anxiety we caused, we know it had to be horrible because we knew we were OK and there was just no way to let people know."

"We have very loving friends and very loving family and we knew they'd be OK through this, that's really what got us through too," said a crying Marion.

"It does cause you to reflect on what's important. We've pretty well got that down," said Terry.

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