updated 10/23/2006 6:31:53 PM ET 2006-10-23T22:31:53

A wrong turn changed an overnight trip into nearly a week of shivering and hunger in the snowy Sawtooth Mountains for a hunter who finally made it to safety on his own.

Bill Helfferich set out on his two-day solo elk hunt on Oct. 15, but several hours after parking his truck, he took a wrong turn and found he was outside the area covered by his topographical map for a section of central Idaho near the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

After snow began falling he decided to wait out the storm, hoping rescuers would soon be on his trail when he didn’t return to his home and family in Eagle, near Boise, about 120 miles to the south.

That first night was one of the worst of his five-night ordeal, he told the Idaho Statesman.

“I shivered the whole night long,” said Helfferich, 53.

He ate snow to stifle hunger pangs and occasionally thought of shooting tiny pine squirrels at his camp site.

“I ... decided I wasn’t that hungry yet,” he said.

At one point, he said, he was surrounded by a pack of howling wolves.

Custer County Sheriff’s Deputy Levi Maydole said search groups shifted their focus to body recovery.

“Day three was hopeful, but we had to start thinking of the inevitable here,” Maydole said. “On day four, hopes begin to drain off. On day five, we don’t expect to find people in those conditions at that time of year in that wilderness.”

By Friday, Helfferich decided help wasn’t coming, so he opted to try to hike out of the woods on his own. He found some researchers studying pine beetle damage, and they gave him a ride to Stanley.

He estimated he had covered a total of about 24 miles on foot.

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