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Lost on Dominion Mountain

New Colville residents appreciate that
they live 'in a really special place'
By Chris Cowbrough
Colville, Washington
November 26, 2003
The one that got away
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Ross and Cathie West have only lived in the Colville community for seven months. But in those seven months, the former New Yorkers have come to realize that northeast Washington is much more than just another pretty postcard on a rural landscape.

It's much more than that to this active, engaging couple.

Don't ask the Wests to take their new home for granted. Especially not after Ross got lost on Nov. 15 while deer hunting on Dominion Mountain.

Ross, Vice-President of Marketing at Colmac Industries in Colville, concede that he did a lot of things wrong that day when he decided to go in search of the elusive whitetail. But the former U.S. Army Ranger also did a lot right, surviving a cold dark night to talk about it the next week.

"My own stupidity was the reason I was out there (overnight)," a chagrined Ross related last week, his wife Cathie at his side. "I did a lot of things wrong. I should have gone out there prepared."

The short list litany: hunting alone, unfamiliar with the rugged terrain, no flashlight, no food or water. Ad the first-year deer hunter wasn't particularly well dressed for a night out on the mountain. No GPS, no boots and a light jacket. But Ross did have his cell phone and his wits about him.

A late start

He may have been lost, but he certainly wasn't forgotten.

He got to the mountain a little after noon on Nov. 15 for an afternoon of hunting. The weather was cool and overcast. Later that afternoon, it started to snow. It was nearly dark when Ross decided to start back down the mountain toward his car.

"But I decided not to follow my footsteps back to the car," the soft-spoken Ross related last week. "I was on a nice logging road that ended abruptly."

It was too dark and too late to find his way back to the car. Ross couldn't see, and he knew he wasn't going to get off the mountain that night.

"I knew where I was, but I couldn't see," he said. "It was a very dark night. You know where you are, but not necessarily what direction to go."

The hunter, who could see lights of residences in the distance, was cold, wet and no he had no matches. Yes, Ross had failed to adhere to the Boy Scout credo pretty much across the board.

He figured he had to walk to stay warm. But that wasn't easy either. A ankle he had badly sprained last summer began acting up again on the uneven terrain dotted with ravines and old mine shafts.

Meanwhile, wife Cathie was getting more than a little nervous back home. The West home, by the way, affords a clear view of Dominion Mountain to the east.

She just wanted her husband home. Now.

"I called Ross on that cell phone every hour on the hour," Cathie said. The last call to her husband was at 9 p.m.

"What side of the mountain are you on?" Cathie asked.

Dead cell phone

The answers she got didn't give Cathie the feeling that her husband was coming off the dark mountain any time soon. To compound the problem, the cell phone went dead.

"At 9 p.m., I gave Ross an hour to get off the mountain," Cathie related. "At about 10 p.m., I called 911 (Stevens County 911 Center)."

What happened from that point until the time her husband was located on a Dominion Mountain logging road the next morning at about 10:20 a.m. both reaffirmed the couple's faith in humanity in general and in the Colville community in particular.

"The response we got to Ross being up there on that mountain was unbelievable," Cathie said. The Sheriff's Department was great…Stevens County Search and Rescue…all the people that were called and no questions asked headed up that mountain to look for Ross.

It was well coordinated, well prepared. "It seemed like everybody up there had a cell phone," Ross said.

Having lived in metropolitan areas for much of their lives and in the Hudson River valley, some 60 miles from New York City, for the past eight years, these newcomers to northeast Washington and rural living were overwhelmed by the response to their plight.

There were at least two units (Sheriff's Department) out searching that night," Cathie recalled. "Even the Border Patrol was involved."

The next morning, an organized search of upwards of 70 to 75 people, the Wests estimated, organized at the Stevens County Sheriff's Ambulance building before heading up to the mountain to find Ross, who was cold, wet, hungry…but still moving around the mountain.

Ross figures he probably walked along five logging roads that night and early morning, working hard to stay warm and keep his mind off his situation.

Still walking

Ross was still walking Sunday morning, friend Larry Vining's borrowed rifle still on his shoulder, when a pickup truck with searchers drove up the road he was walking down. His reaction was to step to the side of the road and let the vehicle pass.

"I pretty much went back and forth all night," he said. "I kept walking. It helped me pass the time and helped me keep warm. I knew I wasn't going to come off that mountain that night."

And Ross made a concerted effort not to look at his watch. The last thing he wanted to do was think about time.

Meantime, back home, Cathie made a concerted effort not to panic.

"He really kept me calm because every time I talked to him, he was very calm," Cathie conceded. "That helped me. Ross was very calm through it all. He didn't seem distressed at all. He was upset for me. Ross is a very level-headed guy."

Ross was trudging along Boise land for much of the night and morning. Gated and locked. And ironically, if he had know to tell his wife that he could see logging equipment, "they would have come right to me."

Meanwhile, back home in Colville, Cathie was a nervous wreck. She began organizing anyone and everyone she knew…and a lot of people she didn't know, for a Sunday Sabbath search.

"I had no qualms about calling anybody for help," she said. "Every person I called…they didn't question anything. It was 'what can I do to help.'

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen."

She shakes her head at a recollection she'll never forget about her newfound hometown.

"The response…this is really a very special place. I don't know that this little town understands just how special it is. That's the real story here. Yes, Ross got lost, although he says really wasn't lost. But it's how people were so willing to help. And it's about other things. It's about this community's general behavior about fund-raising…the golf course…Relay For Life. This is just a very giving, very generous community that's so willing to give its time and money…and it's a depressed area economically."

"I was worried that he would slip and fall..."

Cathie, who says she would love it if Ross never hunted again, said she knew "in my heart of hearts," that he was OK. Her fear was the dark and all that entailed.

"I was worried that he would slip and fall and be injured," Cathie said.

"There was a serious prayer line started. There were more than a few prayers proffered for Ross at Sunday morning services around town.

"It worked," Cathie said with a smile. "And thank God hunting season is over."

It is for Ross.

He may plan another hunting trip sometime, but I won't let him go," Cathie says.

Ironically, at about dawn on Sunday the cold, wet, hungry hunter kept moving down another logging road, there it was. The object of his hunting foray.

"At around dawn, I saw the perfect buck," Ross said with a smile. "But the scope was full of snow, and I was in no shape to shoot a deer and drag it out."