Local high school teacher lost for four days in Smokies
Will Henderson, 37
had been hiking Appalachian Trail in GSMNP
got off trail near Gregory Bald
tried to cross stream, slipped and broke his leg
experienced hiker, hiking since he was 10
member of National Hiking Association
had food with him
had been hiking about 10 days before accident, starting in Georgia and then moving into Tennessee
used sticks and string to make a splint for leg
began crawling, pushing 40-pound pack in front of him
went through a lot of thick underbrush
finally made it back to main part of AT
found by two other hikers
AT is nearly 3,000 miles long, Georgia to Maine
one of most popular hiking trails in country
Henderson teaches biology at Jefferson High School in Jefferson City
hospitalized in Knoxville for a week
media all did stories about his ordeal
now back home
Knoxville paper you work for sends you to interview him
Here’s what he says:
“I never doubted that I would be found. I got discouraged sometimes, but I figured that I had plenty of food and thought that if I could get back to a trail – particularly the main Appalachian Trail because it’s so busy – somebody would come along before long.
“I’ll tell you though, I sure was happy when I heard those first footsteps coming up behind me. Those guys thought I was some kind of animal at first. I guess I looked pretty rough. They kind of hesitated in approaching me, but when I said, ‘help’ a couple of times, they came running.
“One of the guys stayed with me while the other went for help. They kept telling me not to go to sleep, and I didn’t. I was so happy then that I probably couldn’t have, even if I had wanted to. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when they found me, not if I live to be a hundred. Those guys are going to get mentioned in my will.
“The hardest thing about being lost was thinking that other people might be worrying about me. I was supposed to meet some friends in Gatlinburg a couple of days after I got lost. As it turned out, they weren’t worried but said if I had been gone another day, they would have contacted the park rangers and started a search.
“After a day or so of crawling, I had to discard most of my clothes and most of the other things in my pack. They had gotten too wet and heavy for me to push. Of course, I kept all of the food I had. It was mostly dry stuff – crackers, fruit, peanut butter, things like that.
“The mountain foliage was like a jungle. There had been a lot of rain up there this year, and it was really thick. If I had stayed where I was when I fell, I probably would still be there. At least, that’s what one of the park rangers said. I think I knew that instinctively when I fell, so I never thought about staying put. I knew that I had better get somewhere where people could find me.
“Besides food, I did manage to keep a few small things with me. I had several pictures of my wife and two little girls. I looked at them a lot, especially when I got discouraged. I would spend a little time looking at those pictures, and then I would crawl a little bit more.
“I broke the first rule of hiking, of course. I hiked alone. If you’re on the Appalachian Trail, it doesn’t matter because you’re not really alone. There are so many people on that trail. But when you get off the beaten track – that’s when you need to be with somebody. I learned my lesson about that. My goal is still to hike the entire trail, but I guess I’ll have to wait until I get my leg in shape.”