Joshua Shrader survived the past two days lost on a Juneau mountain, nursing injuries suffered in a bad fall. But it will not go down as his most harrowing experience, for he has cheated death twice before.
"God's got me through a lot worse stuff than this," said Shrader, 21, who was reported overdue from a hike early Sunday and airlifted off Mt. Roberts on Monday. "I've been lost in the desert, I've been through a plane crash. You name it, I've been through it."
Shrader's excursion did not seem risky when he left work Friday for an overnight camping trip with his dog, Ludwig - who was lost during the ordeal and is still missing.
Shrader, who moved to Juneau in 1999, planned to hike up the Mt. Roberts trail, cross a ridge to Sheep Creek Trail and return home Saturday. However, he lost his way Saturday morning as the weather closed in. Shrader was on the ridge following trail markers buried in snow but took a wrong turn.
"I couldn't tell which direction I needed to be going," he said. "I guess I was on the wrong ridge. I took a left when I should have taken a right."
Shrader, knowing he was lost, decided to head down the mountain, hoping Sheep Creek Basin lay below. He was standing on a slick spot of snow when a gust of wind knocked him off balance, catapulting him 300 feet down a steep ravine.
"It was pretty bad. I lost control and I didn't have any way to stop. My fingers are still numb from trying to grab snow, and at the bottom I ended up smacking on some rocks," said Shrader, who remained conscious during the tumble. "I did some good damage to the left side of my face and broke my left wrist."
Bleeding heavily from a facial cut and with one hand useless, Shrader climbed back up the ravine and onto the ridge to set up camp near some brush. He planned to use the brush to help insulate him from the weather and to alert searchers. Early Sunday morning he saw a helicopter searching the area below and knew its crew was looking for him, but the weather closed in and the chopper retreated.
Shrader spent most of Sunday hungry and cold and took refuge in his tent from driving rain. When the weather cleared Monday, he ventured out and began forming the word "help" in the snow with broken branches. He had almost finished the letter "e" when a National Guardsman in a TEMSCO helicopter spotted him Monday afternoon.
"I was ready to get off the mountain, so I did a little jumping and hollering," Shrader said. "I was pretty excited."
Shrader's parents arrived in Juneau just hours before the rescue and heard the news from Trooper Will Ellis.
"He paused and said, 'They found him,'" said John Shrader, Joshua Shrader's father. "There was so much shouting in the room I couldn't hear myself."
It was not Joshua Shrader's first close call, but it was perhaps the first time he has cheated death without his father by his side. Father and son were driving through California's Mohave Desert about 13 years ago when their car got stuck. They drank nearly all their water while laboring in vain to pry the car loose. Then the duo walked 12 miles through the sweltering desert and suddenly stumbled upon an oasis.
"We were following tire tracks across the desert, down a road," said John Shrader, who carried his son nearly seven hours. "As they turned up, here was a guy's home with a well and a spring and a big garden."
"We had no clue where the nearest help was," said the younger Shrader. "We were running out of water, and we walked out of that one."
The next close call came a couple years later near the family's home by Palmer. John Shrader, accompanied by his son, was piloting a small plane over the Knik River area when the aircraft suddenly lost power. He crash-landed on a sandbar, shearing off the landing gear. The duo escaped the crash uninjured, but that was only the beginning. John Shrader decided they would walk from the crash site to their home a few miles away and wade across a network of rivers in their path.
"It was pretty exciting. We went quite a ways downstream almost losing our footing, but we continued, which was insane," said the elder Shrader, who carried his son when the boy recoiled from the water.
John Shrader, a deeply religious man, drew courage from a passage in the Bible.
"There was a scripture that came to mind," he said. " 'The steps of a righteous man are ordained by the Lord.' It means God is watching over your steps."
In both cases, the duo walked to safety - the father carrying the son. Although the family enlisted the help of prayer groups across the country and in South America during Joshua's Juneau ordeal, the wait was difficult.
"It was a roller coaster," said John Shrader, who heaped praise upon the people who helped in the search. "There's always a doubt in the back of your mind - what if? But then you calm back down and say 'These are the circumstances, let's continue.'"
The family was reunited at Bartlett Regional Hospital, where Joshua was treated for his injuries and released Monday. The younger Shrader, also grateful to the search team, returned to his job today as a community service officer with the Juneau Police Department. However, his dog is still on the mountain. Shrader lost sight of his German shepard just before he fell down the ravine and they never found each other.
"I'm assuming he's not coming back," he said.