updated 4/25/2005 9:51:27 PM ET 2005-04-26T01:51:27

A cross-country skier stranded in the backcountry with little food or water for eight days — at one time crawling on his elbows because of a broken leg — was rescued Monday after searchers heard his emergency whistle.

Charles Horton, 55, was hospitalized in fair condition with minor frostbite, mild hypothermia and dehydration in addition to a broken leg, authorities said.

“This is stuff books are written about,” Rio Blanco County sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Mazzola said. “His skills and knowledge, his gear and his will to live are what kept him alive.”

Temperatures dipped into the 20s at midweek when a cold front moved through, but little snow fell, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Nadler said. He slept under trees and set fires to stay warm.

“Mentally, he’s doing awesome. Thoroughly amazing,” his friend Mary O’Brien said.

One-day trip goes awry
Horton, a massage therapist and experienced outdoorsman, broke his leg April 17 on what was to have been a one-day ski trip near his Steamboat Springs home, about 100 miles northwest of Denver.

He wasn’t reported missing until Sunday, a week later, because he hadn’t told anyone when he expected to return, and almost everyone who knew him was out of town, O’Brien said.

His landlords called the sheriff’s department when they returned from vacation on Sunday, Sheriff Si Woodruff said.

O’Brien said Horton spent the first two nights under a tree, sleeping on boughs and building a fire to keep warm.

200 yards in 10 hours
On Tuesday, he decided to start toward his car, nearly three miles away. Crawling on his back, supporting himself with his elbows and dragging his broken leg behind, he covered about 200 yards in 10 hours, she said.

“He decided it was taking too much energy to move, so he decided he was staying put,” O’Brien said.

Rescuers found him about two miles from a temporary command center, barely able to speak. Searchers on snowmobiles would periodically stop, shut down their engines and blow whistles. On one stop, they heard Horton blowing his whistle in response.

“We all said that if anybody could [survive], it would be him,” O’Brien said. “He had the personality and the skill. He’s not the type that would panic.”

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