After Andy Zeller spent 45 hours battling freezing temperatures on Silver Mountain, his rescuers thought he might want some souvenirs.
The volunteers from Fairchild Air Force Base brought Andy a foot-long icicle - in case the 16-year-old from Pullman missed the cold.
Then they turned serious. In a brief ceremony, one rescuer ripped a patch off his shoulder and gave it to Andy.
The patch says, “Survival School Instructor.”
The lessons Andy might teach? Always carry a pocketknife. Don’t eat the snow, because it lowers a person’s body temperature. Never give up.
“It’s a lot of common-sense stuff,” Andy said from his hospital bed at Shoshone Medical Center in Kellogg, where he was being treated for frostbite Sunday.
“Like pine boughs keep you off the ground, off the snow. And snow keeps you out of the wind.”
Andy, a junior at Pullman High School, is more comfortable on the stage than on the slopes. He’s a budding actor who’s appeared in productions at Washington State University. He sings in the school jazz and concert choirs.
Last Thursday, Andy was supposed to be in Portland on a jazz choir trip. But the trip was canceled, along with school, because of the snow.
“I was worried about Portland, about him traveling in the bad weather,” said his mother, Eileen Zeller. “Needless to say, I didn’t know what was in store.”
Andy borrowed a pair of skis and drove up to Silver Mountain with two friends. Andy had skied only once before. His friends, more experienced skiers, pointed him to a beginner trail. Andy skied down a “cat track” for a while but eventually got lost.
Andy left the skis behind, hiking off in ski boots. He wore gloves, cotton-wool socks, long johns, jeans, ski pants, T-shirt, thermal shirt, sweater, coat and wool hat. Andy also carried a pocket-knife. He leaned on a ski pole for a cane.
“I thought walking downhill would be better than sitting there,” Andy said. “That was the only thing I thought to do. I got really tired and thought about quitting. I had to kick myself in the head to keep going.”
He stopped walking when the sun set.
That night, the former Boy Scout cut pine boughs and spread a layer on the ground. He covered himself with more boughs. He’s not sure if he slept.
“There was a lot of shivering involved, that’s all I can remember,” Andy said.
At daybreak, he started walking again, retracing his steps. He found an open spot on the hillside and waved to a plane. It flew past.
He trudged through the waist-high powder, but his bindings came undone on his left boot, and his boot slipped off - lost in the deep snow. He decided to stop walking.
Andy dug a cave in the snow, using his ski pole, pocketknife and hands. He huddled inside the cave Friday night, sleeping when he could.
One thought kept running through his head.
“I didn’t want to die, mostly,” Andy said.
Meanwhile, Shawn Cross, a survival expert at Fairchild, rounded up four friends to help volunteers search for Andy. They arrived in Kellogg at 4:30 a.m. Hours later, they spotted fresh tracks.
“About 10 o’clock, I heard some yelling,” Andy said. “I had to get enough energy to get up on my knees, so I could yell back.”
They yelled back and forth for about an hour, until the rescuers found Andy, who vowed never to ski again.
On Saturday night, Andy ate a dinner of steak, shrimp and fries in his hospital bed to make up for what he feared was his last meal - a corndog Thursday.
Eileen Zeller, a nurse, said her son’s right foot suffered superficial frostbite.
The big toe on Andy’s left foot was completely frostbitten. Andy and his family may see a specialist today in Spokane - if they can get there. The family’s car broke down Sunday.
“We don’t know how we’re going to get home, but that’s nothing compared to what happened,” Eileen Zeller said. “As long as we have Andy, whatever else happens, happens.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo