Snowmobiler survives in WI woods after getting lost

8:51 AM, Mar 2, 2013   |    comments
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SUPERIOR, Wis. - For a north woods boy -- when the snow comes calling -- you answer it, with a sled. Craig Friebe was tinkering with his snowmobile on a frigid night back in January and took it out for a spin to see how "she'd run."

"Having fun snowmobile up the Nemadji River," Craig recalled.

He ran it far; at least 30 miles from home.

It was a great night until, he couldn't retrace his tracks.

"I'm getting lost; I'm going up these other ones trying to find my way back, then I'm out of gas. So there I sit in no man's land," Craig said Thursday.

All alone, no phone, no food and no water he started walking.

"All I could hear was that north wind howling," Craig told KARE 11.

He walked all night searching for signs of life, climbing the rocks, desperate to find someone who could help him.

After at least 15 hours he saw lights.

"I saw a bar on top of the hill, neon lights that said Miller Genuine Draft so I'm getting up there, pulled myself up that hill, come up over the edge but no bar, just wind blowing in my face."

Craig was hallucinating.

There was no bar, not even close.

At that point he had to get warm so he built a fire with his lighter in the embankment next to a cave he dug with his hands.

But he drifted off to sleep and fell into the fire, and then rolled into water to stop himself from burning.

That fire cost him his gloves and his socks. So, he started walking again.

He'd been in the 47 degrees below wind chill now for more than 30 hours.

"Walking I'd have my hands in my crotch or my armpits, everything on me was frozen but my chest and arms so I just kept running."

He had to walk near open water more than once.

"I'd just pray to God up there, look at the moon, and say let's do this; I'd just boogie across as fast as I could," Craig said fearing the ice would break through.

But as night fell on his almost third day out there he began to fade.

"I'm dying, shutting down I can feel it, started to feel cold all the way through," Craig said remembering that moment as the one he began to fear the worst.

And he said he also began to pray to the only angel he's ever known.

"I was calling her name Sunday, I was yelling for her," Craig said when he talked about calling for his wife, Becky.

Becky, was part of a growing search party, starting to lose hope.

"I mean I paced the floors back and forth and I kept asking him you know give me a sign Craig, show me where you are at," Becky said, of the exact same night, Craig called out her name in the dark.

That yell must have lit a fire one last time because shortly thereafter Craig found a roadway and a snowplow driver found him, in the fetal position there waving for help.

That was nearly five weeks ago.

Craig lost eight toes to frostbite and caught gangrene on the back of his right foot.

It would be enough to scare that call of the ride out of anyone.

Anyone, but a northland boy like Craig Friebe. "I love being out there, you only live once." Craig is recovering at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth.

He has had several surgeries to remove the toes but still is in considerable pain.

He should recover but will need to learn to walk again.

To help with medical expenses Craig's co-workers are holding a benefit for him this Sunday, March 3, 2013, at Foster's Bar & Grill in Hermantown.

There will be a spaghetti dinner from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a silent auction.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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