It had started out as an awesome adventure, but one boy’s holiday with his dad had quickly descended into disaster. A boulder had crushed his father two days earlier. And now the youngster found himself in the wilderness, completely alone.
Charlie Wilstead Finlayson lives in Eagle, Idaho, with his family. The teen is particularly close to his dad, David, who works as a defense attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah. The pair share a love of adventure and often escape the rat race for a weekend in the wild.
Over the years, Charlie and David have climbed Mount Rainier in Washington, trekked mountains in Canada and even explored the Panamanian jungle together. And in summer 2015 it was time for their next excursion.
For this latest adventure, the father and son embarked on a two-week trip in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The area boasts rugged mountains and dramatic canyons, making it an ideal holiday location for Charlie and David.
As you’d expect with two experienced hikers, their first week exploring went without a hitch. Halfway through their trip, however, disaster struck. The pair had been preparing to climb a cliff when a rock the size of a refrigerator became dislodged above them and started hurtling towards the pair.
David attempted to dodge the rock but it caught his side, sending him plunging down the hillside. He landed with some force 30 feet below, rendering him unconscious. And all the while, his terrified son looked on in horror.
When Charlie climbed down to David, he found his father in an awful state. The force of the impact had broken David’s back as well as his left heel and left arm. It had also left a deep cut across his shin, revealing the bone beneath. Understandably, it was a harrowing sight for the then 13-year-old Charlie.
“I saw him lying there and I was pretty scared,” the teenager subsequently told People. “But after a minute, I realized I would have to calm down or I’d make the situation worse. So I took a deep breath and thought, ‘Okay, I have to do this. My dad’s in serious trouble. And it’s up to me to help him.’”
Charlie was completely stranded, as the accident had occurred in a remote location. The trail head and nearest park ranger were over 13 miles away. Since it was already the afternoon, there was no way that he’d be able to get to help before sunset. So, he would have to improvise.
Charlie rushed back to their camp to retrieve his father’s first aid kit. Using that, he was able to disinfect David’s wound and then compress it. He subsequently collected his and his dad’s sleeping bags to protect them from the elements during the night. Then, in the morning, they could come up with a plan of action.
That night, David was terrified that he might bleed to death. Nonetheless, Charlie helped to keep his spirits up. “He was my savior,” David told the Idaho Statesman. “He just kind of coached me along with the pain and tried to help me not pass out – he kept talking to me all night.”
The following morning, Charlie helped David clamber one mile through a boulder field to their camp on the banks of a lake. All the while, the caring son ensured that his dad kept drinking water and remained conscious. He even made solo detours to check for other campers, but his efforts were to no avail.
The trek back to the camp took hours. And having still not encountered anyone by the end of their journey, they decided that the next day Charlie should go out alone in search of help. He would move far more rapidly that way and maybe even reach the ranger back at the trail head.
So, the following morning, Charlie awoke feeling anxious. He found it so hard to leave his dad that he struggled to fight back his tears. “He was just afraid to leave me because he… didn’t know if he’d see me again,” David explained.
But three days after his dad’s accident, Charlie knew that venturing out alone was his best hope of finding help. And about three miles into his trek, the teen bumped into two men who went to the same Mormon church as Charlie back in Eagle. They agreed to go find his dad and look after him while Charlie was away.
Safe in the knowledge that someone was caring for his father, Charlie continued down the trail. He needed to find someone who could alert the authorities and deliver David to safety. Finally he reached the Crags Campground, where he was able to raise the alarm.
Eventually, a helicopter arrived and took David to a hospital in Boise. There, doctors treated his injuries and set his broken left arm. He had a long road to recovery ahead of him, however, including a number of surgeries. Nonetheless, he was simply happy to have survived.
And for that, he only had one person to thank – Charlie. “We had a pretty solid relationship with each other before this happened,” David told ABC News. “But it’s definitely concrete now. Or granite, maybe, is the way to put it.”
And when Charlie returned to Eagle Middle School after his summer break, he found himself the center of attention. News of his epic feat had gotten around, and his classmates wanted to hear all about it from the eighth grader.
But, despite all the praise that he received, Charlie denied that he was any kind of hero. “I just did what I had to do,” he told People. “I don’t feel like I need all this attention. Anybody would have done the same thing. We’re going to go on another trip once my dad is healed up. But it won’t be in the mountains this time. We’re thinking we might go to Hawaii.”