Leah Spurlin’s story

Published 8:01 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

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On Father’s Day, June 18, 2006, on a remote cliff at the head of Tom Miller Creek near the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park, Leah Spurlin of Troy was rescued in a “mind-blowing” night pickoff. After 11 hours, an Air Force helicopter rescued Leah from the high-altitude ledge, During the daring rescue, the helicopter’s blades were within 10 feet of the cliff wall.

This is Leah Spurlin’s story.

Leah and a co-worker with the Forest Service were hiking along the ridge of a mountain, roughly less that 8,000 feet above sea level.

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Around lunch, they started to hike down the mountain where they were to conduct a biological study with the Forest Service.

“As we hiked down the mountain, the vegetation disappeared and the terrain turned into small cliffs,” Leah said. “We would slide or climb down the steep terrain until we got to this one ledge. I had a slight fall as I reached around a large boulder. Sam, my coworker, went ahead to scope out the area. To continue, he found we had a tricky cave area and, then. about an 18-foot drop.”

Leah’s co-worker lowered himself to a ledge and then dropped. Having no climbing gear, Leah tied up her high-top boots to attempt the 18-foot jump and, hopefully, land where Sam had placed their backpacks.

“My plan was to land on the backpacks on my all-fours,” Leah said. “But, when I jumped, my body straightened and I landed about an inch from the backpacks and hit the boulder. My feet hit first and dislocated and fractured. My bottom hit resulting in a lumbar back compression fracture. The pain was excruciating.”

Sam could see Leah’s Achilles tendon protruding from her leg. Her foot was being held on by a flap of skin.

“Sam said a prayer for me and that helped calm me,” Leah said. “He was able to radio out for help.”

After four hours, paramedics and a nurse arrived and administered morphine to help alleviate Leah’s pain. At some point, the weather turned nasty and it began to sleet. Leah continued to lose a lot of blood. She had to be gotten off the mountain.

“The pain was so great that I would go in and out of consciousness,” Leah said. “I must have been in shock. But I had my God moments. I prayed and that calmed me. I was scared but I was thankful for those who were there to help me.”

The rescuers, six of them, huddled by a small fire in their efforts against the elements during the long hours again.  Shortly, after 2 p.m. using night goggles, a Maelstrom Air Force Team and other rescue units completed the nine-hour rescue mission. Leah was taken to a hospital in Bozeman, Montana. The long ordeal on the mountain gave way to skill medical personnel.

“I’m still having chronic pain in my ankles but I am thankful that I’ve been able to do the things I’ve done over the years. I can still hike but it is painful after about three miles. I still love the beautiful ruggedness of the Great Northwest. It’s so peaceful and you have such a wonderful feeling of freedom. It’s where I love to be.”