After two nights in wilderness
By Duran Bobb
A missing Warm Springs hunter was found last week in good health after spending two nights in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness on the reservation.
Max Mitchell was cold, hungry and overjoyed to be reunited with his family and friends Wednesday afternoon.
"Tears came to my eyes when Max was found," Warm Springs Fire Chief Dan Martinez said.
Mitchell was dropped off at Lion's Head on the morning of Oct. 15. Warm Springs Search and Rescue was contacted Tuesday morning around 8 a.m.
Tracking a large elk, Mitchell strayed away from a ridge.
"By the time I turned around, there was a storm rolling in and it was getting dark," he said.
Mitchell spent the first night under a fir tree while it snowed over a foot in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
"All I had on was a flannel jacket and a T-shirt, jeans, two pairs of socks and hiking boots," he said.
"We will walk every inch of where Max was last seen," Martinez said the next afternoon, as search crews listened for gunshots from Mitchell's rifle.
"I had no matches and my gun jammed," said Mitchell. "It happened when I needed it the most."
Mitchell could occasionally hear his son's bloodhound barking in the distance.
"I blew my call and the dog would bark," he said. "After a while, I started to realize that this wasn't about hunting anymore, it was about survival."
Community members rallied to assist. A command post was set up at the end of the blacktop of the J-100 road on Oct. 16. Civic Patrol was activated and a Black Hawk helicopter assisted in the search for the missing hunter until dark.
"Tonight, we will continue the search," Martinez said that evening. "We will not give up until he is found; I promise."
"It was cold and frightening," Mitchell said. "It's something that I'll never forget. I've never been gone for more than a day while hunting."
He spent the second night in a lookout cabin on Shitike Butte.
"It wasn't much warmer than under the tree. I removed my wet clothes and they froze while I pieced together the cotton blankets in the cabin," he said. "There were times when I felt beaten down. But I'd think about my wife and my grandchildren and that kept me going."
Mitchell was found by searchers the next morning. "The ranger crew gave me dried fruit, pepperoni and Gatorade," he recalled. "They offered me their coats."
An area of about 20 square miles was covered by ground, road and air support by an estimated 135 searchers.
"Folks gave their time and expertise," Martinez said. "As a team, we got the job done. Sometimes it's not what we know; sometimes success is about coming together."
"We never gave up," Mitchell's wife, Kimiko, said.
"I'm thankful all the people came together and took their time to join the search party," Mitchell said. "I'll never forget it."