LEWISTON – Lost three days and two nights in the rugged terrain surrounding Tumbledown and Jackson mountains near Byron, Steven Wright kept his wits about him.

Panic and fear weren’t options, he said. Yet, as daylight waned Wednesday, frozen and exhausted, the deer hunter began to think he wouldn’t survive the night.

“I was not scared,” said Wright, 53, of Woodford, Vt. He spoke from a hospital bed in the intensive care unit at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Thursday.

He showed no signs of obvious injury, but he’s listed in serious condition. Neither he nor his nurses would talk about what’s wrong.

“Being lost didn’t bother me. Most people would go into a panic,” Wright said. “Hey, it was just another day for me, but I didn’t think I was going to make that next night.”

Wright, an experienced hunter, survived several dunkings in the dark in icy water during Monday’s blizzard. He was snow-blind all day Tuesday, then weathered freezing temperatures, painfully stiff muscles, drinking bad water, and extreme loneliness on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

But he never gave up.

Found near dusk on Wednesday by snowmobiler Donald Eisenhaur, 68, of Madrid, Wright now wants a chance to see the man who saved his life, to thank him face-to-face.

Eisenhaur had gone for an afternoon “joy ride” on his snowmobile, breaking trail in the fresh snow on the Madrid-facing side of Jackson Mountain. Before leaving home, his wife advised him to be on the watch for “the lost hunter.”

As he spoke Thursday, his wife Susan was by his side, and his three sons – T.J., 27, Jamie, 31, and Kerby, 33 – were seated near Wright’s hunting buddies, Michael Harrington and Barry Bishop, both of Bennington, Vt.

Wright, Harrington and Bishop had arrived in Byron on Sunday and spent the night in their rented cabin on No. 6 Road near Coos Canyon.

Monday morning, they drove about four miles east on No. 6 Road, parking near 3,012-foot Tumbledown Mountain in Township 6 North of Weld at 9 a.m. when they saw a deer track. Thinking he’d get the deer right off, Wright left his pack, which contained matches, a flashlight and winter survival gear, in his truck. He began walking south of the road, tracking the deer.

Harrington and Bishop spread out flanking Wright, hoping the deer might double around and pass them. They planned to meet back at their trucks. But Wright, who blamed his Garmin Extreme GPS unit for getting him lost, never made it back.

He found the deer within the first 10 minutes, but didn’t shoot it. Instead, he followed it across No. 6 Road and onto Tumbledown, where he jumped more deer and followed one of them.

He backtracked in the dark without a flashlight, found a blue-marked trail, followed it, then broke through snow-covered ice and fell into a brook up to his neck.

On and off, he’d try the GPS, but said it kept giving him directions that made no sense. At one point he said it showed his truck being 150 feet away, but that would have meant he parked on the summit of Tumbledown, he said.

After struggling out, he kept falling through more ice into the same brook before reaching a logging road. Not realizing he was going snow-blind, he could only see the South mark on his compass by using light from the GPS device.

“There weren’t no going back at that point, because when I went across that ridge, I went swimming and I wasn’t going back through the same situation. … I knew I had to get down off the top of that mountain because I was freezing very fast,” Wright said.

He followed the logging road to a bridge over a river and thought the road would lead him back to Byron. Then he found a camper, but left it.

“Because of my stupidity, I wasn’t going to break the guy’s $70,000 camper, when I figured, ‘Hey, won’t be long, I’ll be out of here. I’m on a logging road,’ but, at that point, I didn’t find no other roads, only that main road leading out of there. So, I only had one option, keep moving. I was drenched. Keep moving or you’re not going to be moving,” Wright said.

He hiked through the night, believing he’d find his way out Tuesday in daylight. But he was snow-blind within 30 minutes of dawn.

Unable to see, he stayed on the logging road all day Tuesday, hoping someone would find him. No one did, although game wardens were searching for him. They were on the wrong side of Tumbledown, where Wright had last been seen.

After sunset, Wright sought a spot to hunker down and stay warm. Instead, he slipped into an evergreen in a hole. His boots still full of water, he wrapped boughs around him for insulation and fell asleep.

On Wednesday morning, his vision returned, and he decided to head back to the camper. He couldn’t climb out of the hole for an hour, though, because of stiff muscles. When he did get out, his neck was so taut he couldn’t lift his head. He could only look straight down. His back was killing him.

Wright was so thirsty he drank stagnant water before finding good water 100 yards away. He got down on the snow, dug a hole and bent for a drink.

“Just as I was doing that, there goes the snowmobiler. Waunnnnnnhh! I said this is not good. I hollered. He didn’t hear me,” Wright said.

He watched Eisenhaur fading into the distance, then rejoiced when he saw the snowmobiler returning. Eisenhaur spotted him and drove up.

“I said, ‘Put me on that damn snowmobile and get me out of here.’ … He was real nice, real concerned. … He didn’t want me to fall off … leave the snowmachine, like I was going to. From that point on, he was my father,” said Wright.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Wright was inside a medical helicopter headed for CMMC.

Harrington and Bishop, who had stayed by the trucks all night Monday honking a horn and hoping Wright would hear it and return, were ecstatic when they learned their friend had been found alive. So, too, was Wright’s wife and their sons, who were also out searching for him. The sons said they were worried, but, knowing their dad as they do, never thought he wouldn’t make it.

“He had a stroke in April this year, so my immediate concern was that would be the only thing keeping him from safety and getting out of the woods,” T.J. Wright said. “There’s not another person I know who can do what he does, and there’s not a lot of us that can go (hunting) with him, because he won’t stop.”

Steven Wright’s sons pushed him to get the GPS unit, which he hadn’t used often before the Maine hunt. They’re getting him an upgrade for Christmas, Kerby Wright said.

“And a radio collar,” added Jamie Wright, who works with tracking dogs in the Bennington County Sheriff’s Office in Vermont.

Much to his wife’s dismay, Wright wanted to leave the hospital Thursday and finish what he’d started.

“I’d much rather be in the woods the next two days, trying to get my deer. Isn’t that what this was all about? Cause all this confusion for a deer? Really hate to see that go,” Wright said.


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