Breaking News
More () »

'I took a wrong turn': Teenager shares story of night alone in the woods

Spencer Hallman went missing in the mountains of Larimer County for more than 20 hours. Rescuers found him Thursday afternoon, tired but uninjured.

BERTHOUD, Colo. — One day after his rescue, Spencer Hallman is still pretty exhausted.

The 14 year old struggled to stifle a yawn while waiting with his mother to answer a journalist’s questions outside their family’s church in Berthoud.

“I’m just tired,” the teen said.

“We’re doing well,” added his mom, Tammie. “Grateful that he’s here.”

A day earlier, Spencer was escorted out of mountainous terrain in Larimer County on law enforcement horseback, after he’d gone missing during a camping trip. He was alone in the woods for more than 20 hours before search crews found him.

“It was just a backpacking trip,” Spencer explained. He and some other boys at his church, along with their camp leaders, left Monday for Rawah Wilderness.

“It was a high adventure campout. So they backpack 6.2 miles in,” his mom added. “And was supposed to hike 6.2 miles out.”

Credit: Hallman family

On Wednesday afternoon, Spencer got separated from his fellow campers. He said he walked away from the group to a water source to clean up.

“You went to the creek to wash up, and to come right back,” mom said. “But then what happened while you were at the creek?”

“I took a wrong turn,” Spencer answered.

He describes getting disoriented trying to find his way back to camp and searching for a trail with no luck. 

When his camping group couldn’t locate him by Wednesday night, they contacted authorities. A helicopter crew used thermal imaging and night vision to search for Spencer overnight, but couldn’t find him. By Thursday morning, multiple search crews were looking for him by air, on the ground, and even using a dog to track his whereabouts.

Spencer said he only got about an hour of sleep that night, but plenty of bug bites.

“I was just scared,” he said.

The teenager said he had trail mix and a Gatorade with him. His mom said he tried to use the reflection from the metal of his knife to signal the helicopter flying overhead, but it didn't work. 

Just one day before he got lost, he said camp leaders had taught the boy some survival skills. He forgot part of the advice: to always take a buddy, and to sit down as soon as you get lost.

“They said he did everything else right to stay warm, to stay dry, to stay hydrated – which is a great thing,” his mom said.

Just before 2 p.m. Thursday, search crews found Spencer about five miles from the West Branch Trailhead, according to the Larimer County Sheriff's Office. He was tired and dehydrated, but otherwise ok. Spencer said he heard someone playing music on their phone as rescuers got close, and that one of the members of the church camping group carried him for part of the hike out.

Credit: KUSA
Spencer Hallman was escorted out of Rawah Wilderness on the back of a Larimer County Sheriff's Office horse

Spencer rode the rest of the way along the trail on the back of a Larimer County Sheriff’s Office horse. He was reunited with his family in Berthoud later Thursday night.

“I was just happy to be leaving the mountains,” he said.

“You feel a little numb at first,” said his mom, Tammie. “I didn’t really have a lot of emotion, until I got the phone call that he was safe. Then it was like ‘whew.’ Ok, we’re good.”

She added, “When something traumatic like this happens we say, ‘Ok.’ We turn to our faith and say, ‘God has a plan.’ He’s going to show us the way, and we go with it.”

Hallman learned more from Spencer’s camp leaders. She said they were part of the search group still looking for him on Thursday, and even left his tent up with some water and supplies inside in case he found his way back to camp before they found him.

“Would I send him again? Absolutely,” she said. “No hesitation I’d send him with these leaders.”

Credit: Hallman family

Spencer said he’s be open to another camping trip – at some point.

“Not super soon,” he said. “But yeah, I’ll probably go camping again.”

Spencer was happy just to get a little more rest Friday. And his mom could finally exhale.

“I feel relief, and I feel blessed,” she said. “We’re just grateful for his safe return.”

RELATED: Body found of hiker who went missing on Kit Carson Peak

RELATED: 2 killed in flash flooding in the Cameron Peak burn scar area

RELATED: Climber killed by falling rock in Larimer County identified


Before You Leave, Check This Out