Nearly two weeks ago, Joe Jack’s right leg was crushed by his ATV. X-rays would later show he’d broken two major bones.
As he lay on the ground among the rocks and dirt near Haeckel Hill, he realized no one knew to go look for him.
Now safely in a hospital bed at Whitehorse General Hospital, Jack, 62, can tell the story of spending two cold nights outdoors trying to find a way out before crawling the final 500 metres, bloody and broken, to a road.
He insists the story is not about him.
“It’s the story of Billy Jack,” he said this week. “It’s not the story about me.”
Billy Jack is Joe’s father. He died in 2004.
As Jack struggled to find his way to safety, his father was with him every step of the way, he said, providing guidance to his son when things got particularly rough.
“I’m just a guy who was saved by his dad.”
The story began nearly two weeks ago, on Monday, when Jack decided to use his ATV to explore trails in an area he’d never been before.
A business administration student at Yukon College, he wasn’t planning on staying long. He had a quiz coming up.
But as the evening wound down the fog rolled in. Jack said he could tell it wouldn’t be safe to travel.
As a man who has spent most of his life in the outdoors, he said he is always prepared for the worst.
His emergency kit included a sleeping bag, saws, a winch, a charger and a lot of warm clothes. These items would help save his life.
Jack planned on spending the night and making it back to Porter Creek when the fog lifted in the morning.
Tuesday morning he woke up to find he wasn’t on any trail. At some point he had lost his way in the fog.
Jack said he first decided to walk a route to the right path.
“I walked it. I walked down through the boulders and picked my path then came back up and proceeded down slowly (on the ATV).”
He estimates he was about a kilometre and a half from a trail.
Then it started to snow.
Jack said his ATV began to slip backwards on what he now believes was a patch of black ice.
“It was an act of God that I have never experienced before. My vehicle is sliding backwards and my tires are going forwards and I’m thinking what the heck is going on here?” he said.
Jack panicked and jumped off.
“As soon as I jumped off it rolled back and it caught me,” he said.
The ATV crushed his leg.
Screaming and crying, Jack rolled backwards along with the machine.
On a scale of one to 10, he describes his pain as “definitely a 10 and more.”
That was the first time he called out to his father.
Billy Jack died in 2004, but promised to look after his family, Joe Jack said.
“He came back in a dream to one of the grandchildren and said, ‘Tell the family I’ll be around and I’ll be watching over you guys, so don’t worry about it.’”
Lying on his back with a broken leg, Joe Jack said he thought of his father.
“I said, ‘OK, where are you, I need you now.’”
In about five seconds, the pain went from a 10 to about a three, Jack said.
With his pain under control, Jack used the handsaw to splint his leg.
When he slipped, he estimates he was about two kilometres as the crow flies north of the turbines at the tree line. Uneven terrain made the walking distance much further.
Using the winch, he was able to get the ATV back on its wheels and pulled up the slope.
He eventually made it back to nearly the spot where he started the day.
He estimates he spent about 11 hours in an area with a 30-foot radius
“I thought, ‘Thank you (Dad), now can you please help me find my way out? Let me find the trail,’” he said.
Back on his ATV, Jack said he travelled about 40 or 45 feet before realizing the embankment he was on was too steep.
He tried to back down, but the ATV rolled a second time.
“The second time it rolled, I just didn’t give a damn because what’s the use anymore?”
Jack said he wasn’t injured, but he was again left with a flipped ATV.
It was 9:30 at night by then. The stars were out and it was getting cold.
Jack decided to cut off his bloody pants, bundle himself up for warmth and spend a second night sleeping outside.
He said his father helped him realize that if he was going to get out of there alive, he was going to have to do it himself.
“When Dad was there he said, ‘No one knows you’re here, and they’re not going to look for you. So you have to do it yourself.’”
Wednesday morning Jack woke up and – based on advice from his father – was able to use the winch again to get the ATV back on its wheels, he said.
He spent hours that day trying different paths to get to a road.
At about 2:30 p.m. he left his machine and all his survival equipment and began to crawl.
It would be about two and a half hours before he would reach the road up to Haeckel Hill and another two hours before anyone would find him.
“I just told Creator, ‘It’s up to you now, I did all that I could.’”
A nurse from Whitehorse General Hospital found him on the side of the road.
“She decided to bring her kids up for one last look at the windmill before the season closes,” he said.
The nurse and her family drove Jack to the hospital. He now has a rod and multiple screws in his leg.
At the hospital, doctors were concerned about infection.
“They said, ‘I don’t know about your leg, you’ve spent 30 hours crawling around in the mud,’” he said.
But so far the leg is doing well.
In a hospital bed, Jack said he’s had time to reflect on what happened – and how much worse it could have been.
Like every major moment in life, he believes there is a lesson to be found in what happened to him.
It was the directions from his father and the desire to see his family again that kept him searching for a way out.
“The message is that when we pass over we’re not really gone yet. We still have a job to do. Our job is to look after our loved ones.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at