Tramper: I didn't think I'd make it

By Tracey Roxburgh

Reunited ... Pany Galdamez and her son, Robert, both from Melbourne outside Lakes District Hospital yesterday afternoon. Photo/ Blair Pattinson
Reunited ... Pany Galdamez and her son, Robert, both from Melbourne outside Lakes District Hospital yesterday afternoon. Photo/ Blair Pattinson

It was the 30 hours from hell, but yesterday Robert Galdamez and his mother Pany were counting their blessings.

Mr Galdamez , from Melbourne, was plucked from near the summit of Ben Lomond at 12.20am yesterday, having been missing on the mountain since about 6pm on Tuesday.

He was able to walk from the rescue helicopter to a waiting ambulance at Frankton, and make his own way from the ambulance into Lakes District Hospital, suffering moderate hypothermia. Yesterday the 22 year old was hungry, exhausted and sore, with cuts all over his body, but grateful to have lived to tell his story.

Describing his near-death experience as ''hectic'', Galdamez said he had walked to the summit of Ben Lomond, almost 1750m above sea level, and while descending he ''kind of lost track of where I was''.

''I went in a completely different, opposite direction ... to the direction I was supposed to be going, so, it wasn't the track route that was designated for hikers and whatnot to go through.

''It was more just mountain and grass, trees everywhere ... so there wasn't really anything to go by.''

Galdamez said he began working his way down the mountain by ''sliding on the rocks'', resulting in cuts all over his body.

As the reality of his situation began to sink in, Galdamez said he became increasingly worried.

''It was beginning to get cold, it was raining, I didn't know what was going to happen [and] I didn't know how long it was going to take before everybody found me.
''It was very stressful, that's for sure. I was very scared.''

While his puffer jacket provided some protection from the elements it ''wasn't enough'', particularly as snow began falling on Wednesday evening.

''I did everything I could to stay hydrated _ I was drinking water from a waterfall, putting snow in my mouth just to kind of keep me hydrated.
''I knew if I didn't have any kind of water then it probably would have turned out worse.''

Galdamez said he found a large rock under which he huddled ''both nights'', breathing slowly and trying to keep warm.

''[I was] just praying that they would find me as soon as they can. Once it was snowing I began to get very worried, I honestly didn't think I was going to make it.''

It was then, however, he heard his rescuers calling his name and knew it was ''only a matter of time'' before he was found.

He soon saw two members of the search team ''up on the summit'', which was when he realised how close to them he was and summoned the strength to climb to them.

''They were calling out my name and I had to work my way up to back from the bottom and that in itself was a big pain.

''When I saw [them] there's no way to describe it, I literally ... started crying. I couldn't thank them enough.

''Honestly, if it wasn't for them, then I probably wouldn't be here ... thank God for the rescue team.''

Pany Galdamez, who booked a ticket to Queenstown from Melbourne on Wednesday, fearing the worst, was also extremely grateful to all of those involved in the search.

Unable to eat or sleep for two days, Galdamez said she was flooded with relief when she received a phone call from police early yesterday letting her know she would soon be reunited with her son.

''Thank you. I am really happy ... really grateful. Thank you [to everyone involved]; thank you so much.''

Robert Galdamez, who would be heading to Nepal intending to walk to the Everest base camp, said he'd learned some valuable lessons from the experience.

''Definitely don't travel alone, especially while you're trekking. You just don't know what's going to happen.

''Pack up all the essentials and necessities in a bag, even though you think that you're OK because once you're up there with no food and water, you start to get very worried.''

While his first visit to Queenstown hadn't gone exactly as planned he would ''definitely be coming back'' and still intended to make the most of the rest of his holiday, which would include a visit to Milford Sound.

But, his first priority after being discharged yesterday, was to have a ''Big Mac and a bit of a beer''.

- Otago Daily Times

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