Runner Survives Night in the Woods

Bret Greene happy to be alive and home after being lost overnight in the Chuckanuts on Nov. 12. // Photo by Michael Rodriguez

By Noah Harper

For Western student Bret Greene Monday, Nov. 11, started just like any other Monday would. Greene tied his shoes, grabbed his phone and began his run toward Raptor Ridge in the Chuckanut Mountains. This run would turn into a fight for survival against the cold.

With only his shorts, shoes and cellphone, Greene was already deep into the Chuckanut trails before he realized the rough condition of the trails and the lack of markers signifying where he was.

“I just kept going straight, for miles and miles and miles, and just kept running straight,” Greene said. “I just wanted to explore and eventually I got pretty far out, and I did not really know where I was and there weren’t really any signs or anything.” 

As Greene continued into the Chuckanut Mountains, it had been hours since he had seen a trail marker or check, preventing him from telling a dispatcher where he was, Greene said.

Soon it began to get dark and rain, putting Greene in a difficult situation. With the rain came the risk of hypothermia.

“It started to rain and get colder so I just kept running around trying to stay warm,” Greene said. “I was worried about getting hypothermia. I knew that what would’ve killed me would’ve been hypothermia.”

Greene then decided to use his cellphone to call his dad but left that morning without fully charging it.

“I was able to reach him on the phone and I was like, ‘Hey Dad, I’m sorry, I don’t really know where I am,’ and then my phone died,” Greene said. [My Dad] ended up calling the sheriff and they sent out people from search and rescue to find me.”

After a few more hours of what felt like going in circles, the decision was made to hunker down for the night and find water, Greene said.

“I found a little stream and I drank out of that stream because I was pretty dehydrated at that point,” Greene said. “And then I made a little shelter out of branches and twigs and leaves and mud and piled them all together and tried to get underneath. It was a rough night, but I was trying to stay positive and stay optimistic.”

The Tuesday morning light provided Greene the much needed assistance to find his way out of the woods.

“I just kept running, and the fact that it was light out helped a little bit,” Greene said. “I eventually found a man-made wooden, little bridge. I was like, ‘okay there’s something man-made, this seems good,’ and then I saw a little sign that said ‘Whatcom County Parks and Trails.’ Then I saw another sign that said, ‘Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail, two miles that way.’ And so that’s when I knew I was safe.”

Greene followed the trail, slowly recognizing where he was and eventually ran into a jogger who was able to drive him home and provide a cell phone for Greene to call his dad. Once Greene got home, he showered and went to the hospital with his aunt and sister who had driven up once they heard he was okay.

At the hospital, Greene was given antibacterial creams for scratches, cuts and bruises. He also had an elevated amount of enzymes in his liver, possibly from drinking the stream water. Greene is expected to recover fully.

Greene is thankful for all his friends, family, cross country teammates and the search and rescue crews for their efforts in trying to make sure he got out alive, he said.

“Looking back, it was just a bunch of stupid decisions, like going out by myself without a fully charged phone, not telling anyone and not even wearing a shirt. Just a bunch of not smart decisions,” Greene said

The AS Outdoor Center and the Whatcom Search and Rescue have a list of tips to avoid being put in this dangerous situation.

“You should always bring the essentials of hiking, which is more water than you expect you need for whatever given trip you’re doing,” Outdoor Center employee Colin Coughlin said. “You should always bring a compass, flashlight and matches are a good idea, especially if you know how to start a fire in the wilderness.”

Another good tip is to always fully charge your cell phone before going and to make sure people know where you are going and when they should expect you to be back.

“Let your neighbor or your roommate or your best friend know that you were going, if you had a specific time when you were planning on being back. If you’re not back by a certain time, they start to worry, they’ll call the Sheriff’s department or some type of law enforcement agency usually is what happens,” said Jess Curry, Whatcom Search and Rescue council member.

If you do end up getting lost, both Coughlin and Curry strongly suggest staying in one spot, making it easier for rescue crews to find you.

One comment

  • Jfc, you really included that a trail runner should pack a compass? I’m not sure how that passed the editing process. Maybe there wasn’t one.

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