CHICAGO (AP) – A 23-year-old woman rescued after a week lost in the Montana wilderness says she hesitated to retrace her path after seeing bear tracks over her old footprints.
Madeline Connelly was found May 10 after disappearing in the Great Bear Wilderness on May 4. She said in interviews this week that she drank water from creeks and ate glacier lilies for food. She says her dog, Mogi, kept her warm at night and woke her up in the morning.
The Chicago-area native was visiting her uncle in Montana on the way to a job at an Alaska bakery and said she saw a search helicopter at one point, but it flew off. Connelly, who isn’t a camping and hiking novice, said she cried but tried to stay positive even though she was often freezing and had to hike through thigh-deep snow.
“I tried to keep myself calm,” she said. “I think that first night was the scariest. But the moon was out and I wouldn’t let myself get sad or scared. It was so beautiful. There were times I woke up screaming—and it must have been my subconscious—but I never let myself feel that.”
Her parents, John and Laura Connelly of River Forest, Illinois, went to Montana to look for their daughter. They found her camping equipment in the back of her car parked at the trailhead.
“It was just brutal because we knew she was out there in the wilderness,” John Connelly said. “It really hit us.”
The day she was rescued Madeline Connelly said she saw the tops of searchers’ heads at the bottom of a hill. She yelled to them and asked if they were hikers. She said she was stunned when one asked if she was Madeline Connelly and became emotional when they told her, “The whole world is looking for you.”
One rescuer, Flathead National Forest worker Jacob Jeresek, said Connelly wanted to hike out of the woods herself but eventually agreed to be flown to safety.
“I think her mindset was that she had been on this great journey and wanted to end it on her own terms,” Jeresek said.
Connelly said she was crying and hugged and kissed her family when she saw them after she was rescued.
“I definitely was apologizing for putting them through this,” she said.
She has scrapped her plans to work in Alaska and is spending rest of her summer in Montana instead.
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