An amazing story of survival

Since it’s freezing in Winnipeg, the mercury often dipping below -20 degrees centigrade, I try to spend noBeaver
more than a few minutes outdoors at a time. I can’t imagine spending four days exposed to such weather, as an Alberta man recently did. After just a a few hours, I’d be writing my will in the snow.

CROWSNEST PASS, Alta. — A paramedic used to saving
the lives of others found himself having to eat rotten meat and fend
off snarling animals to ensure his own survival in rough Alberta bush

Ken Hildebrand of Fort McMurray was riding his all-terrain vehicle
as he collected animal traps north of the Livingstone Gap, about 130
kilometres southwest of Calgary, on Jan. 8 when the quad rolled after
hitting a rock and trapped him underneath.

Mr. Hildebrand, who has a weak leg due to polio, ended up face down
on the snowy ground
with his machine pinning his strong leg.

“He was stuck there for four days and three nights — almost 96
hours straight,” said Troy Linderman, director of Crowsnest Pass
emergency medical services.

Wow. If I added up all the time I’ve spent outdoors during the last 20 winters, I don’t think it would come close to 96 hours. (Being in my car doesn’t count. I usually have the heat cranked up and I often listen to Rush Limbaugh and other talk show hosts, so I’m never lacking for hot air.)

Mr. Hildebrand kept himself alive — albeit sick — by eating the rotting meat of the animals he had collected.

He faced constant harassment from coyotes who were growling and
fighting each other just feet away, but was able to keep them at bay by
constantly blowing a whistle he had with him.

That would be my worst nightmare, being stuck under a vehicle in freezing weather and worrying about dinner — mine and the coyotes’.

As a paramedic, he knew people start losing heat quickly from their
upper body so he took a beaver carcass and set it by his groin to help
keep his body warm. He used another beaver as a bit of a windbreak and
part of its skin as a makeshift pillow.

Amazing! How many men can say that they’ve kept warm using beavers? (No, not those kind. Get you mind out of the gutter.)

“I knew I had some (orange) surveyor’s tape. I took it and tied one
end around my wrist. I threw it at different angles to make an X. If
someone flew over they would see me no problem.”

With no water or food with him, no snow close by and nothing but
dirt around him, he quickly became dehydrated. He pulled some
surveyor’s tape through his teeth to get a little bit of the dew that
dropped onto it.

“I ate a lot of dirt to get a little moisture,” he said.

In the beginning of the article, it says "he ended up face down
on the snowy ground." And now it says there was "no snow close by." In just a few hours, the poor guy had felt the impact of global warning.

By the second night he was so hungry he started to pick at the beaver bones an hour after the sun went down.

“I tried to eat pieces of that, but it made me sick and I threw up,” Mr. Hildebrand said.

Wow. How many guys can say they’ve tried to eat beaver? (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Last Wednesday, as Mr. Hildebrand was entering his fourth day of
being trapped, he began to accept the fact he might not be found before
the cold, malnourishment or animals claimed him. His saving grace came
when a hiker and a dog from Pincher Creek found him.

“He was hiking and he came there because he told me he had this
funny intuition and urge to go hiking there even though he’d never been
there before,” Mr. Hildebrand said.

After spending a night in the Crowsnest Pass hospital, he was
transferred to Lethbridge, where he has undergone several operations to
treat frostbite and injuries to his legs.

“It’s amazing that he’s alive. I can’t believe it,” Mr. Linderman said. “Ken’s as tough as nails.”

Yes, he’s certainly tough as nails. Had it been me, Linderman would be using another nail metaphor: "Melvin’s dead as a doornail."

Photo from Property#1

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. This is quite a story, considering the fact that people here in Mumbai are unable to put their stubby nose out in the uncharacteristically cold weather that’s enveloped the city! In a minus 20, I wonder if people would sue me for telling them the story of such a cold place.

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