“I began writing my goodbye notes to my children, friends and family,” University of Oklahoma professor recalls time missing from Nevada hiking trail and how he survived days alone in the wilderness


NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – University of Oklahoma Professor, Ron Bolen, was missing for days on Boundary Peak in the Inyo National Forest.  

KFOR first told you his story last week when he was still missing.  

On Saturday, July 17, three of his friends found him.  

Bolen says he remembers the difficult days and was preparing to die, but through it all, he didn’t lose hope.

“It wasn’t scary, there was no anger, no resentment,” said Bolen.  

The mountain he was lost on is 13,000 feet tall. It’s 200 square miles around and multiple law enforcement agencies were looking for him.

On the day before he was found, his hope that he would make it out alive was fading.

“I began writing my goodbye notes to my children, friends and family,” he said.

His climb was only supposed to last one day.

Bolen made it to the highest peak on Tuesday, July 13, and sent his daughter, Meredith, a message that he was climbing back down.  

On his way down, Bolen was knocked off the trail.

“Coming around one of the outcroppings, I fell, and I stumbled maybe two to three body lengths down the mountain,” he said.  

He had hoped to climb back up the mountain and then head towards an angle to get back on the trail, but his efforts weren’t successful.  

“The problem was that angle was wrong,” recalled Bolen.

The days on the mountain were excruciatingly hot and long.

Bolen says he had spent most of his energy already on the first day climbing up and partially down the mountain.  

He found some shade and a stream to drink from and decided to rest.  

“I knew I needed to hunker in place…Stay put, stay alive and they’ll find you,” he said.

Bolen saw his first helicopter Wednesday morning. He also saw an airplane searching, but neither aircrafts saw him.  

Bolen decided he needed to move.  

“It also started the stopwatch, because I knew I had five days,” he said.  

Across the country, Bolen’s daughter, Meredith, and his entire family were searching relentlessly.

They had called multiple law enforcement agencies, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, Nevada’s governor and California’s governor.

Bolen started hiking again and came across a cattle trail.

“I was elated. I hadn’t felt that positive since the whole thing had begun,” he said.  

Soon after, he found a hiker’s registry.

“I lift open the box and the last person that had signed into that registry was November of 2020. It’s not an area where people go,” said Bolen.  

And so, the rollercoaster of elation to devastation began again.

By this time, Bolen was exhausted, blistered and hungry. The only thing he had eaten since the time he was lost was a single CLIF Bar.  

It was Friday when he began accepting his fate that he might not make it back to Oklahoma alive.

“I’m laying next to a babbling brook and I’m next to a tree. How many people don’t get this on their way out? Whether it be a hospital room full of beeping machines or tragic, instantaneous loss of life, I’m, fortunate. I’m lucky.”

What he didn’t know was that three of his friends were looking for him less than a hundred yards away.  

“I heard voices. And I looked at my watch and said ok, 9:45 a.m., your hallucinations are back. You need to go write that down on the clipboard,” he said.  

But Bolen wasn’t hearing things. The voices he heard were real.  

“I screamed out ‘hello’ or something and they began running up trail…I said, ‘I’ve been out here for a while. I think I may be in a dream,’” said Bolen.  

Bolen says it took some time and convincing for him to believe they were real.  

Their joy to find him was only matched by his surprise.

After packing up, Bolen was taken to the hospital, where he was checked out and rehydrated.  

He says even now, weeks later, the whole experience still feels surreal.

He wants to properly thank everyone who helped save him, but he says it’s difficult to know how.  

“If I had three more lifetimes, I probably wouldn’t be done thanking people,” he said.  

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