Skier found after 4 days

UM administrator injures his ankle on hike in Wyoming

`Tired of eating snow'

Towson outdoorsman discards supplies, crawls to safety

April 17, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

A University of Maryland administrator was recovering last night in a Jackson, Wyo., hospital after a ski accident forced him to crawl four days to safety along snowy backwoods trails in the Teton mountain range.

After Vito J. Seskunas of Towson was found by another hiker at Grand Teton National Park, he told rangers "he hoped to make it to his car before he was rescued because he wanted to drive to the store and buy some Coke," a park spokesman said. "He was tired of eating snow."

On Tuesday, hours after starting what was to be a five-day solo ski trip, Seskunas, a seasoned outdoorsman, fell at the base of a ravine and broke his ankle, according to the National Park Service.

He had been hiking and cross-country skiing and was several miles from a main trail when he was injured.

The 53-year-old administrator at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Catonsville slept the first night near the spot where he fell in a tent he carried with him, according to Joan Anzelmo, a park service spokesman in Jackson.

The next morning, Seskunas set out for the nearest major trail about four miles away because he thought no one would consider him missing until the weekend. That's when the report he filed with the park service indicated he would return.

For the next 3 1/2 days, the injured Seskunas made his way through winding ravines and snow-packed trails at an altitude of about 7,000 feet in the Grand Tetons, several miles from the Jackson Hole ski resort.

After the first night, Seskunas ditched his tent and heavy equipment and left much of his food to make the going easier. He took his ski poles and a few granola bars.

Most of the time, Seskunas covered the terrain scooting on his backside, Anzelmo said. He occasionally used a ski pole as a crutch to make it up and down steep hills, she said.

"This guy's fortitude, and his attitude, was just amazing," Anzelmo said. "We're amazed at the way he kept his wits. It's a real lesson to people who get stranded like this."

Seskunas braved light snowfall and nighttime temperatures of about 20 degrees, Anzelmo said. He was warm in his ski clothing and slept on his side at night to help dry his wet backside, she said. She added that about two people each year die in accidents at the 330,000-acre national park.

The ordeal ended about 9 a.m. Saturday when Seskunas was found by a fellow skier about 400 yards from a main trail.

The two were soon assisted by Grand Teton park rangers, Anzelmo said.

Seskunas likely would have been found earlier if the accident had occurred on a weekend when trails are busier, she said.

Seskunas was in stable condition yesterday at Jackson's St. John's Hospital, where he underwent surgery for his broken ankle, a hospital spokesman said.

Seskunas was in the intensive care unit and unavailable to speak with reporters.

Dr. William T. Carpenter, director of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center where Seskunas works, said Seskunas had been planning the trip for weeks.

"He was supposed to have somebody else going with him, but it's my understanding that person had to back out at the last minute," Carpenter said. "But I'm not surprised at the story of him making it out. Vito is a special, very resourceful kind of person. We're just thankful he's all right."

Sun staff researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this article.

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