Badly injured hiker reveals the 'terror' of being stranded in California desert

Badly injured hiker reveals the 'terror' of being stranded in California desert

When you hear stories about those who have been stranded in the wilderness and have to be saved by rescue services, it tends to be a traveller who has overstepped their abilities in some form. However, in the case of Claire Nelson, it was misfortune that left her stranded in the California desert, immobilised by an injury.

Claire was asked by her friends to look after their cat at their home near Joshua Tree National Park for a few weeks, which she gladly accepted. She had hiked before at the park and loved the landscape, so early one morning she drove out into the wilderness for a six-hour hike.

She prepared with litres of water, a hiking stick, and sunscreen, and got a route recommended from a guide at the information centre. Claire took a break after two miles, sitting on one of the many rocks in the area while she checked the route. "It was when I stood up to get down from the rock, I was quite high up, and it was so slippery that I immediately went down," Claire told the BBC.

"I knew there was nothing I could do to stop myself. It was like going in slow motion. My head was just going: No, no, no, no."

"I landed with a massive crack and my whole body filled with pain. My immediate thought was 'this is bad'.

"This was something I thought wouldn't happen to me - not because I thought I was a pro-hiker - it just seemed like such an extreme scenario that you don't imagine that this happens in real life.

"I hike a lot on my own and I came to think I'm fairly sensible about hiking but I suddenly realised how foolish I'd been.

"I thought, 'I can't believe I'm in a situation where I'm out here alone, people don't know I'm here, I've injured myself and I have no way to contact anybody."

Claire had landed on her left side, shattering her pelvis, and soon found that she couldn't move. She tried to call emergency services, but she had no signal on her phone either. "That was a moment of complete and utter terror," she explained. "I just knew that the only thing I could control was how long I could stay alive for."

Making sure to prioritise her survival, Claire took some aspirin for the pain and used a stick and plastic bag to create a curtain from the sun. The next day, her water ran out, and she drank her own urine for survival.

"These little singular thoughts would pop into my head and they drove me forward. I want to see this person again. I want to taste this again. I want to go to this place again.

"And the idea of my loved ones finding me in a desert - I couldn't bear to do that to them."

She would end up spending four days and three nights alone in the desert, taking some videos in case anyone found her and splitting her day into small tasks to pass the time. For the first half of the day she would scream for help, and spend the second half avoiding the sun and staving off heat stroke.

"Every day as night fell, I was getting more and more despondent that no one had come," Claire said. "On the fourth day it was particularly hot and I was really struggling to keep my spirits up. I started to give up hope."

Eventually, help arrived. She heard the helicopter and realised that while they were looking for her, but they wouldn't be able to see or hear her in the area she was in. Thinking on her feet, she made a makeshift scarecrow from her hiking stick and sun curtain, using the last of her strength to wave it in the air.

Now, Claire is safe and recovering from her injuries. She has now begun physiotherapy and says she's "learning to walk again". Hopefully she makes a full recovery in the near future.