Inside the Harrowing Hike that Nearly Killed a Solo Adventurer

Devil’s Bedstead in the Pioneer Mountains have turned deadly for other hikers. How did this one survive?

Pioneer Mountains over Round Valley, Land of the Yankee Fork, from highway near Challis, Rocky Mountains, Salmon River Scenic Byway, Idaho, USA.
Pioneer Mountains over Round Valley, Land of the Yankee Fork, from highway near Challis, Rocky Mountains, Salmon River Scenic Byway, Idaho, USA.
Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

In 2016, Avery Shawler fell 60 feet while on a solo hike in Idaho’s back country, leaving her stranded exactly where Luke Richardson, a hiker from Vermont, died the previous summer. The fall broke left radius and orbital bone below her left eye, fractured three ribs and broke her right kneecap — but she survived, thanks to a confluence of luck, preparedness, and according to some, the supernatural.

The in-depth piece, originally commissioned by Middlebury Magazine and run in Outside, delves into the circumstances that landed Shawler in her predicament: After informing her family and friends where she was going and when she’d be back, she came upon an upward scramble of slushy snow at Devil’s Bedstead that initially seemed fun and doable. But it turned deadly when Shawler realized it was refreezing behind her, and there was no way down — plus, her family and friends weren’t expecting to hear from her until the next day. She didn’t have a choice but to try and call for help with her iPhone and satellite beacon.

No dice. After failing to reach out and organize a rescue — rather than face a freezing-cold night on the mountain — Shawler had no choice but to attempt to climb upwards and then go back down a different, safer route.

“Shawler felt a rush of adrenaline as she began to make her way closer to safety,” David Wolman writes. “The climb went smoothly, for almost 60 feet, until that one rock near the top. That one rock that came loose and sent Shawler tumbling.”

When she did come to, bloodied and unable to see out of one eye, Shawler wrapped herself in a silver blanket that was easy to spot from above. Then, desperately, she attempted to call the authorities dozens of times, ultimately connecting and getting a helicopter commissioned to come find her. That she managed to stay conscious in the cold, get a nearby helicopter and survive the fall itself is nothing short to of a miracle. There’s at least one person who believes that literally.

“Her astonishing good luck is almost enough to make a nonbeliever wonder about fate. In fact, not long after her ordeal, Shawler, received a note from a colleague saying that a self-described clairvoyant had dropped by the office looking for Shawler. She had a message,” Wolman writes.

“The woman claimed to have spoken to Luke Richardson’s spirit. Luke was the young man from Vermont who had died on the Devil’s Bedstead the previous summer, no more than a few hundred feet from where Shawler had been rescued. The clairvoyant wanted to tell Shawler that Luke was the reason for the telecommunications miracle. Luke saved her life.”

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