An engaged couple who got lost while on a backcountry snowboarding trip said that the three nights they spent together in blizzard conditions made them even more certain about getting married.
"We stuck together, we were really positive," said Rachel Fehl. "We cuddled to stay warm. We couldn't have done it without each other."
Fehl, 30, and her fiancee, Adam Putnam, 36, are lucky to be alive after a snowboarding adventure east of Santa Fe, N.M., went horribly wrong.
The couple went off the beaten path of the ski slopes to find unmarked terrain, but when heavy snow started falling, the couple trekked miles off course and got lost.
"We started to get suspicious that we were in an area where few, if any, people had been in a very long time, and the conditions got very difficult to navigate due to falling trees," Putnam said on "Good Morning America" today.
They didn't panic or call for help immediately, even though they had a working cell phone. As experienced backcountry adventurers, they carried food, water, a compass, a saw and an avalanche shovel. Not to mention, Fehl is a nurse and Putnam is an emergency room doctor.
"I think that we both actually thought we would be fine," Fehl said. "The first night was cold but we thought it was [just] another night in the woods."
But as night fell on the second night, temperatures plummeted below freezing. The couple built a snow cave, layering pine boughs on the ground and over the top of them, and huddled inside. But they still didn't call 911, believing they would find the way back on their own.
Sending Out an SOS
By Sunday, they were down to their last candy bar, so Putnam relented and called 911.
It wasn't a moment too soon — whiteout conditions were causing avalanches in the area and delaying rescuers.
The couple also used Powerbar wrappers and their cell phones to reflect the sun toward rescue choppers, and they spelled out SOS in pine boughs.
Fehl and Putnam dug another cave and hunkered down. They got up each hour to move around for warmth; Fehl found herself stumbling more than walking.
By early Tuesday the skies cleared, and a Blackhawk helicopter spotted the giant SOS in the snow, and rescuers plucked the couple out of the icy wilderness.
Carl Gable, who was part of the rescue team, said the couple was smart for turning off their cell phones to conserve batteries unless they made a call to 911 a few times a day.
But, he added, backcountry hikers should always tell other people where they're going and how long they plan to be there.
"If people leave an itinerary of where they plan to go and when they plan to get out, then search teams will have a much narrower area to search and things will happen much faster and the situation won't escalate," Gable said.
Find out more about mountain rescue teams at New Mexico Emergency Services Council (www.nmesc.org) and Atalaya Search and Rescue (www.atalayasar.org)