When Jiji Oh arrived in Steamboat Springs in early October, she was looking to recharge. She called it a “self-care kind of trip.”
Instead, she walked into a nightmare.
After spending a day hiking close to town, the 50-year-old fitness instructor and mom from Houston heard about the Devil’s Causeway, a precariously narrow land bridge on a mountaintop. Why not, she thought. The trailhead was only about an hour away.
Oh, who’s originally from South Korea and has lived in various spots around the world, enjoys traveling solo, and she’d never been to Colorado before. As she drove up a gravel road into the Flat Tops Wilderness, she lost cell service. But she told herself she didn’t care.
“And it’s all going to be good,” she said she thought. “I’m going to enjoy every single moment.”
At first, she did. After hiking with some people she met at the trailhead, she made her way alone to the top of the “causeway” and took in the view of surrounding peaks and tundra and trees. She was happy, stopping to catch her breath and take selfies. But she had already made a mistake: She hadn’t told anyone where she was going. Then, she made another big error.
“The thing I didn't know about [was that] you should come down the way you climb up,” she said.
Instead, she followed a small sign to a separate path and hiked her way down to the bottom of the mountain. It was totally unrecognizable. The trail seemed to dead end. All around her was thick forest — no roads, no landmarks to orient herself by.
She walked and walked. She yelled for help but heard no response.
As it started to get dark, she felt more disbelief than fear. Eventually, she knew she had to stop for the night. She used the flashlight on her phone to try to scare away animals — and even caught a glimpse of a bear. The temperature would soon drop into the 30s.
As she curled up into a ball, trying to warm her wet feet, she set her mind.
“I will get out,” she told herself. “Tomorrow will be another day. I will get out of this situation.”
But that next day, she didn’t get out. She kept on walking, with no food. She scooped handfuls of water from a stream. She tried to follow it, but it branched off into a web of other streams, surrounded by brush and fallen trees she had to climb over. Oh focused on staying positive. She promised herself she wouldn’t let this situation “take over” her mind.
Then came the second night. Then the third. Oh said she felt like she was in the movie “Groundhog Day,” endless walking through seemingly identical wilderness. At the beginning of day four, she was cold and covered in scratches.
“I really think that I've got a very limited time between death and life,” she said.
Oh is married, with a son in high school and a daughter in middle school, who like Oh, is introverted. Her “mini me,” as Oh described her. She thought about her daughter, in particular, having to deal with her sudden death in the mountains.
“I'm not gonna let it happen,” she remembers thinking.
She decided to make one last push to try and save herself.
She thinks it was about 1 p.m. on that fourth day when she spotted a couple dots in the distance. She wondered if they were real — and if they were human. They turned out to be two fly fishermen in their 70s.
Richard Grant calls the spot his “super-secret” one, and he was having a great fishing day when he heard a noise and looked up.
“And saw a woman, disheveled, waving her arms and frantically calling for help,” he said.
At first, his buddy, Ned Skinner, thought this might be some kind of trick.
“It's very bizarre because we kind of make a point to go way out in the middle of nowhere where no one else is, and we never see anybody,” Skinner said.
As relieved as Oh was, she also worried the men would turn away. She climbed down a hill and forded the stream to meet them. Then she burst into tears.
“I said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, and I’m so glad to see you.’”
Hearing her story, the guys were shocked — and impressed by her condition.
“I mean, she was extremely distraught, but she looked pretty good for her experience,” Grant said
Skinner said he “would have been nuts,” if he went through the same ordeal. “I'd be crazy. I mean, seriously crazy.”
The pair gave her filtered water and their sandwiches, and together they hiked more than an hour back to where the men had parked. Then one drove her in her rental car back to her hotel. Grant and Skinner seem to think most people would have done that. But Oh calls them superheroes.
“So they are here, forever in my heart,” she said.
Still recovering from frostbite back in Texas, Oh hopes to return to Colorado someday — during a warmer time of year.
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