He’s gained attention all over the world as the hiker who gobbled bugs in a gutsy move to survive five days with a broken ankle on a little-traveled mountain trail. But Derek Mamoyac said eating little arthropods was just a matter of survival instincts kicking in.
In an exclusive appearance via satellite on TODAY Wednesday, the 27-year-old Oregon native related to Matt Lauer his battle to stay alive before his amazing — and lucky — rescue halfway up Mount Adams in Washington state.
Abandoning his will and surrendering to the possibility of perishing during nights the temperature dropped to 20 degrees was never an option for the seasoned mountain climber. He said his improvised diet was just a matter of course.
No thoughts of dying
“Me sitting there dying never, ever entered the back of my mind,” the still-recovering Mamoyac told Lauer, as he propped his head up with his elbow while lying on a bed at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center in Portland, Ore. “I never wanted to dwell on it because if I did, it would make it seem like a possibility, and I wanted my mind-set to offset that. That’s how it was easy to eat the insects.”
Mamoyac explained to Lauer how he wrapped his head around the idea of eating ants, centipedes and even a venomous wolf spider to keep going during his five-day ordeal.
“After the third day I was just low on energy, and I [thought]: ‘You know what? I’m in a survival situation and anything’s possible,’ ” he said. “I figured, you know, if people living off this land for millions and millions of years [had] to eat bugs, I figured I would do it, too.
“I just tried to desensitize myself to it. I’d just eat it and not think about it.”
Mamoyac, an experienced climber, trekked from his home near Corvallis, Ore., to Mount Adams Oct. 12 for what was a planned one-day climb. He scaled to more than 11,000 feet before wicked weather set in and he began to head back down.
Falling 1,000 feet
But during his descent, Mamoyac slipped on a patch of snow and began a terrifying 1,000-foot tumble down the mountain.
“A lot was going through my mind during the fall — seeing my life flashing before my eyes and thinking about everyone I love and care about, and thinking that I’m not ready for life to end right now,” he said. “It just looked like a big blur, and when I finally came to a stop, I was really happy, because that’s when I knew I was going to get that second chance.”
Still, Mamoyac was left with a mangled ankle and, other than a bottle of water and some granola bars that quickly ran out, little in the way of supplies.
Not waiting around to be rescued, Mamoyac employed his experience, and tips he picked up from survival shows on reality TV, to begin a slow, agonizing descent down Mount Adams. Unable to stand, he crawled on his knees and, when the pain became too great, scooted on his backside. The snow pants he was wearing tore open, leaving his backside exposed to the wicked weather.
“It went from really perfect days to really lousy days,” Mamoyac told Lauer. During the coldest times at night, he tried to stay awake, taking catnaps only during sunny daylight periods.
“He did it when he felt it was safe — knowing that if you fall asleep under certain conditions, it might be your last sleep,” Derek’s father, Steve Mamoyac, explained in a TODAY interview Tuesday.
Finding the trail
While Mamoyac’s traumatized family feared the worst, rescuers who had fanned out for five days finally got a break Oct. 17. Searchers Greg Varney and Ron Buermann and search dog Trulee discovered a knife case, a folding toothbrush and granola-bar wrappers along a trail. Soon after, they noticed drag marks in the snow. They followed the tracks.
“At some point we realized that we were gaining ground, and this trail was getting fresher,” Buermann told TODAY’s Lester Holt in an interview. “We weren’t convinced of what it was, totally. But then Greg shouted out, and we got a voice response [from the young man, who] was apparently eager to be found.”
Upon finding him, rescuers warmed, hydrated and fed a grateful Mamoyac as they awaited helicopter transport to the Portland hospital. Mamoyac was alive but in bad shape. He was placed in intensive care, had surgery on his ankle and was treated for frostbite on his backside.
Yet the nature-loving Mamoyac clearly isn’t through with the outdoors despite his ordeal — his father noted Derek is now considering a career in mountain rescue. And Mamoyac himself told Lauer he’s itching to get out of the hospital.
“All things considered, given my diet and what I’ve been through, I’m feeling pretty excellent,” he said. “I’m giving it as long as it takes to properly recover, so I can get back and get out in the great outdoors again.”