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Missing hiker: 'I was very much at peace'

by: COURTESY OF CCSO - Mary Owen, 23, of Newberg, was found safe Saturday morning after she was reported missing on Mount Hood Thursday night.Newberg hiker Mary Owen said she didn’t panic as she struggled to survive in whiteout conditions for six days on Mount Hood.

The 23-year-old George Fox University senior told KOIN Local 6 that during the days she lay in near-freezing temperatures just a few hundred feet from mountain’s summit, she hoped her friends were looking for her and tried to stay focused on her survival.

Owen said she was at peace most of the time, even when things looked bleak.

“I was really, really blessed,” Owen told KOIN Local 6 from her hospital bed on Sunday, a day after an Oregon National Guard helicopter lifted her from the mountain. Owen was being treated at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center for a fractured ankle and frostbite.

“Part of it, I think, is just not being afraid,” she said. “I think people put themselves in a lot of compromised positions when they’re afraid and panic — but I don’t generally do that.”

Hoisted to safety

The Newberg woman was found safe but injured Saturday morning on a Mount Hood trail at about 10 a.m. by the National Guard helicopter searching the mountain. She was hoisted into the helicopter and flown to Portland for medical treatment just as her family arrived at Timberline Lodge.

Clackamas County search and rescue crews had been scouring trails on the mountain since Friday looking for Owen, who was believed to be hiking alone in the area. A Toyota 4-Runner she borrowed from a friend was discovered Thursday night in Timberline Lodge’s parking lot with her backpack inside.

Owen told family and friends on March 22 that she planned to hike the trails on Mount Hood. She was reported missing Thursday evening. Search teams from Portland, Eugene, Corvallis, Hood River, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office joined the effort to find her Friday and Saturday.

Owen is an experienced hiker who has hiked the Pacific Coast Trail from Mexico to Canada.

Can’t walk out

Owen said she left her group and hiked alone, thinking she would return by nightfall.

“I got it in my head I wanted to go myself, which was not a good idea,” she said.

Owen was caught in a whiteout less than 1,000 feet from the mountaintop. Then it became dark, and she lost her way. On Monday morning, when she tried to climb out, her ice ax slipped and she fell about 40 feet, fracturing her ankle.

“In the morning, (I) took a look at my leg and it was kind of torn up and I couldn’t really lift it,” Owen told KOIN Local 6. “So (the) odds of being able to walk out were not great.”

She made a snow cave, and for the next five days she waited for rescuers she was sure were on their way. She was wearing only wool leggings, shorts, lightweight running shoes and a water-proof poncho.

“The whole time I was very much at peace,” she said. “I mean, confused at times why people were not looking for me and just kind of contemplative a lot about life. But there wasn’t really a point where I felt like I would die.”

By Thursday night, March 28, her roommates had reported her missing and the search began.

“I just woke up with really a lot of peace (Friday), in the sense of thousands and thousands and thousands of people praying for me,” she said. “And it was really powerful.”

Owen survived eating Nutri-Grain bars, crackers, ramen noodles and Chia seeds from her grandpa. She was able to start a fire with the Nutri-Grain wrappers, and Saturday morning she was spotted by a rescue helicopter.

“I was just thanking God and thanking (the rescuers),” she said.

KOIN Local 6 reporter Chris Woodard contributed to this news story.