In April 1997, experienced outdoorsman Warren Macdonald was exploring Hinchinbrook Island, an uninhabited paradise located off the coast of Australia, when he met Geert van Keulen, another solo hiker. Together they decided to climb the island's rugged, challenging mountain, Mount Bowen.
After five hours of hiking and with daylight dwindling, the two decided to set up their camp. Later that evening, Warren left the campsite in search for a place to use the bathroom. Suddenly, a granite boulder weighing 2,000 pounds broke loose and fell, pinning Warren's legs.
Hearing his hiking mate's screams, Geert rushed to help. He tried for four hours to push and pry the boulder free, but it would not budge. It then started pouring down rain, filling the dry riverbed up to Warren's hips. He knew before long the water could go over his head. "If I thought I was in trouble before, now I'm really in trouble," says Warren.
Both men realized that if Warren were to have any chance at all, Geert, an inexperienced hiker, would have to make the dangerous descent back down the mountain alone. When he reached the bottom, Geert would then have to catch the island's only ferry that comes just once a day. If he missed it, Warren, whose condition was rapidly worsening, was sure to die.
"I'm in a position where I'm totally relying on this guy that I've met the day before. Even as he's walking away, I'm calling out, 'Go slow! Walk in the bushes. You have to make it out," Warren says.
On his downward hike, Geert repeatedly fell down the steep, slippery decline. At one point, an army of venomous Australian green tree ants attacked him. His only option was jumping into a nearby pool of water while still wearing his camping pack.
Meanwhile, at their makeshift camp, Warren noticed a patch of water near his foot filling with his blood. He then watched as a fresh-water crayfish crawled up and started biting his foot. "I feel like now I'm living in some kind of horror movie," Warren says.
As Warren struggled to stay alive, Geert finally reached the base of the mountain and got a helicopter rescue crew to set off on a search. Amazingly, the crew spotted Warren's arm from the air and touched down. Though he was still alive, Warren was fading fast. He was in such bad shape that a doctor in the rescue crew assumed Warren was already dead.
The rescuers were able to free Warren approximately 45 hours after he was first crushed under the boulder. Both of Warren's legs had to be amputated.
Warren says he had no choice but to hold on for life. "I think we all have this built in survival mechanism," he says. "I used to joke, 'What do you think I might have done? Hold my breath? Strangle myself?' But we have to survive. I discovered that we've got this incredible power [to stay alive]."
Geert says the entire experience was one he'll never forget. "First finding him. Realizing that I couldn't get him out after working with him all night. Having to leave him behind in the morning, it was very hard," he says.
Just a year after losing both of his legs, Warren was back climbing mountains again. He later became the first—and only—double above-the-knee amputee to climb the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world's tallest peaks. "The outdoors has always been such a huge part of who I am," Warren says. "I got to the point where I thought, 'I wonder if it's possible for a guy with no legs to go back out into the mountains again.' I started training and I thought, 'If anybody's in a position to find out, it might as well be me.'"
He recounts his amazing survival and astounding comeback in his book, A Test of Will: One Man's Extraordinary Story of Survival.
Warren says losing both of his legs has not been an entirely bad experience. In fact, he says he does not even necessarily wish that it had never happened. "I've learned ... how infinitely more powerful each of us is, and how responsible we are for creating our reality," he says. "It wasn't in my reality—the same as it's not in most people's—for a guy with no legs to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. So I set out to create that reality."
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