When her husband passed away several months ago, 71-year-old Sajean Geer wanted to honor his legacy in a special way: by scattering his ashes in one of his favorite places.
So, on July 18, Geer took her husband’s ashes and her beloved Chihuahua-terrier mix, Yoda, and headed for Olympic National Park in Washington state.
Little did Geer know she wouldn’t leave the park until nearly a week later, after she got lost and a day’s hike turned into a six-day ordeal.
Geer had planned on scattering her husband’s ashes at Obstruction Point, one of his favorite places, she told KIRO.
But, while she was searching for a place to lay her husband to rest, Geer said she was overwhelmed with emotion and became disoriented.
Soon after, Geer came to a terrifying realization: she was lost.
“I couldn’t find my car, I couldn’t find the road and I got really disoriented,” Geer told KIRO.
Geer, who describes herself as an experienced hiker, said she was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and capri pants at the time. She wasn’t carrying any survival gear.
But, not all hope was lost: Geer remembered a tip from an outdoor survival book she read, which said it was important to have “a positive mental attitude and a fighting spirit that you’ll live through this.”
“What I figured was I had to survive until I got rescued,” she told KIRO. “I said, ‘okay, I’m gonna do this.'”
Quickly after, Geer got to work. She built a shelter made of logs and moss to keep herself and Yoda warm and trekked to a stream three times a day for water. She also said she ate currant fruits, pine needles and ants to survive.
“This ant bit me,” Geer told KIRO. “Then, I remember watching on television you can eat ants, and I go, ‘Well, I have a bigger mouth than you,’ so I ate him when he bit me.”
Meanwhile, Geer’s family organized a coordinated search after they did not hear from her for several days.
The family reported her missing on July 19, one day after Clallam County sheriff’s deputies were unable to locate Geer during a welfare check.
There was no indication at the time she could have been at Olympic National Park, said Patty Danisiewicz, secretary of the superintendent’s office.
Two days later, the sheriff’s office put out a missing persons alert.
Danisiewicz said an on-duty park ranger spotted Geer’s vehicle based on the alert and called authorities. A quick ground search was conducted near the car but to no avail.
On July 23, Olympic National Park Service observers took their search efforts to the skies and spotted Geer as she was going to get water.
“I start waving my hands as much as possible, and I go ‘Please see me, please see me,'” she said. “Then, finally, they waved at me.”
The National Park Service helicopter did not have hoisting capabilities, Danisiewicz said, so a Coast Guard helicopter was called in to rescue Geer. Yoda was also taken to safety by a ground team made up of Clallam County and Kitsap County Sheriff’s ground searchers.
Geer was treated for dehydration and “a few scratches” at the Olympic Medical Center but was released that evening, Danisiewicz said.
The rescue team also found the urn that held Geer’s husband’s ashes.
Geer said the long ordeal taught her an important lesson: “I realized what’s really important in life is relationships and love.”