The search for Shuei Kato was a day away from becoming a mission to recover his body.
The 36-year-old was reported missing early Sunday morning after he failed to return home from an attempt to summit Missouri Mountain on Saturday.
“I’m very thankful and I’m very sorry for all the trouble,” Kato said at a bar in Buena Vista, where he was reunited with his friends and family.
Kato has no business apologizing. After summiting the mountain he took a wrong turn that led him four miles off the trail and into the snow with no more than his jacket, a few candy bars and a boiling pot.
Dozens of ground searchers and three helicopters tried to find the mountaineer over the weekend, but weren’t successful.
Kato says he saw rescue crews dozens of times over the three days, but had no way of getting their attention. It wasn’t until Tuesday they received a heat signature from a fire Kato managed to start.
That’s when they spotted his campfire in the Pine Creek Drainage around five miles from the summit of the 14,075-foot peak.
After three nights in the wilderness and braving subzero temperatures, Kato was alive and did not even need medical attention, according to Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze.
Spezze said he was “very surprised” to find Kato alive. Not just that, but he was “OK” – despite only having a coat and a couple of other layers on amid blizzard-like conditions.
He also had “very light” food and water provisions.
Kato says he took 30-minute naps every few hours. He said if he fell asleep for longer he feared he would die of hypothermia.
Kato credits family and responsibilities for his survival, along with the few tips he learned from watching TV star Bear Grylls.
Spoke with friend of Shuei Kato, the 36 yo who survived 3 days on a 14er without supplies. Currently relaxing with a beer. What a guy #9news— Dan Grossman (@Dan_Grossman) October 10, 2017
Peter Manley who works at The Wilderness Exchange in Denver and is an avid hiker, hiking and avalanche instructor and EMT, said there are 10 essentials items people should carry in their pack when climbing a 14er like Missouri Mountain.
"When I am going out solo, I usually bring enough equipment to spend an uncomfortable night in the mountains just in case,” Manley said.
Kato is now reunited with his family. Valerie Kato dropped her two young boys off at the house of family friend Eric Ojala early Sunday morning. On Tuesday afternoon, Ojala and his wife drove the boys to Buena Vista to be reunited with their father.
"My son is best friends with his son. So we've just been screaming a lot, yelling and telling the kids, 'You probably don't understand how big of a deal this is. This is the best day of your life,’” Ojala said.
Kato says this will not deter from hiking, although he won’t do it alone, something search and rescue crews recommend not doing as well.