BOISE, Idaho — Dick Ross had to get home to babysit his dog Dolly after hiking several days in the Sawtooth Mountains in south central Idaho.
The 71-year-old left his hiking companion and began walking through a pass between Upper Bead Lake and Baron Lake, in the northern part of the mountains.
With no trail to follow, Ross climbed over rocks above the tree line. At Baron Lake, he joined a marked trail that would take him northwest to his car in Grandjean, a remote town northeast of Boise, on the western edge of the Sawtooths.
Two and a half hours before Grandjean, two boulders, one the size of a refrigerator, the other an ottoman, rolled off a mountainside and struck him.
He had not seen or heard anything.
“The next thing I knew, this big old boulder just rolled right past me and turned and just crushed my legs,” Ross said.
He could barely move. Out of cellphone range, he yelled for hours to get someone’s attention.
A Boise native, Ross has been hiking the Northwest since his teens. He set out Aug. 21, 2018, with Ed Terry, a lifelong friend, with whom he hiked with many times in the Sawtooths.
They spent two days hiking to several lakes, fishing for brook and cutthroat trout.
“There’s lot of hungry fish there,” Ross said.
On the third day, Ross, dressed in lightweight wool pants and a shirt, left Terry and started heading home.
He started down a ravine, then the boulders came crashing in. He had not seen or heard them coming. The smaller boulder landed on him.
As he lay with his feet above him, he began digging with his hands around and under the boulders. He freed himself. With his arms, he crawled to an area with sand and gravel that appeared safe from further rock slides.
“The pain was unbelievable,” Ross said. “I just couldn’t imagine anything like that.”
To protect his left leg, he improvised.
“My foot was in my boot, but my boot was just swinging around in a 360-degree direction without any problem at all,” he said. “There just wasn’t anything there to hold it in place.”
His backpack held less than 20 pounds of gear, including a down jacket, tent, food and water. He took his walking poles from the pack to create a splint and wrapped the leg with a bungee cord. His right leg was broken, too, and he knew it, but he left it alone: “The right leg didn’t seem to need anything.”
He started yelling for help.
“I could hear my voice echoing off Baron Lake below,” Ross said.
Not long before, six hikers from the Chemeketans, a Salem, Oregon, hiking group, arrived at the lake, where they would camp that night.
“I heard the rockslide and didn’t think anything of it, since slides are typical,” said Joel Zak. “It wasn’t until we heard a consistent call-out about every 15 minutes that all of us became concerned.”
Two club members climbed to the top of a nearby ridge to see if they could get cell coverage. They couldn’t.
John Coyier, another Chemeketan, headed toward the sound. He climbed 45 minutes to a basin above the lake. He called out. No reply.
Coyier climbed about 500 feet higher, and he saw Ross several hundred yards away. He heard Ross shouting.
“He kept saying ‘helicopter,’ so I figured he needed help,” Coyier said.
Coyier turned back to Baron Lake, thinking it would be better to summon help than to spend more time trying to reach Ross.
Meanwhile, two other hikers, Caldwell residents Alex Marshall and Derek Call, had arrived at Baron Lake for the night. Marshall is a paramedic. They could hear Ross yelling.
After grabbing a bite to eat, the two men set off to find him. They couldn’t. By then it was 7 p.m. and the sun was already behind the peaks.
“We were ready to turn back,” he said. “Then we got a little higher on a rise and we heard him again.” They reached Ross about 7:40 p.m. He was on a 30-degree slope that was “extremely unstable,” Marshall said.
Marshall examined Ross. Except for his legs, Ross was in good condition.
Marshall, 42, and Call, 41, told Ross they would make him as comfortable as possible and then go for help.
They removed the down jacket and tent from Ross’ pack, laid them over him and zipped him into his sleeping bag. They gave him some extra water. As he waited, he drank it and ate some energy bars. As night fell, Marshall and Call descended by the light of their headlamps.
“We took it slow and cautiously,” Marshall said.
They arrived at Baron Lake and spoke with Coyier, who had waited at the camp after learning the two men had gone to Ross.
Marshall and Ross told him they would go to get help, and they set off for Redfish Lake, northeast of Baron Lake, at about 10 p.m.
They walked 15 miles before finding cellphone service at the boat dock at the west end of the lake around 3 a.m. Marshall told a police dispatcher about Ross.
Police summoned Two Bear Air, a private air rescue service in Whitefish, Montana, that serves Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington. Venture capitalist Mike Goguen used his own money to establish the service, and he pays all its costs. A crew in a helicopter reached Ross at about 6 a.m. Friday. An eight-minute flight brought him to the Stanley Airport, where a Life Flight helicopter flew him to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.
Over the next few days, Ross underwent three surgeries.
Dr. Annie Knierim, an orthopedic trauma surgeon, operated on his left leg to relieve pressure that had prevented blood from flowing properly.
Without that surgery, muscle tissue could have died and Ross could have lost the leg, said Dr. David Zamorano, another orthopedic trauma surgeon who operated on Ross.
Ross broke the tibia, the larger bone in his lower left leg. Zamorano, inserted a titanium rod lengthwise. The rod aligned and stabilized the bone.
In his right leg, Ross broke his fibula, the smaller bone in the lower leg. Zamorano inserted a small stainless steel plate at the base of the bone, where it joins the ankle.
He spent three weeks in the hospital. He left in a wheelchair. In late December, he returned it.
Now he walks for about a half-hour twice a day at the park near his house. He swims at the YMCA and goes to physical therapy.
“Overcoming the pain and just trying to keep on moving and trying to get those muscles back and get rid of the pain — that’s job No. 1,” Ross said.
He is grateful for all the help he has received.
“It could have been so much worse,” Ross said.