WELLSVILLE — A Cache County man is thankful to be alive after being rescued in an intense snowstorm last week in Wyoming. The diesel mechanic was headed to fix a broken-down snowcat, when he found himself in a fight for his life.
"I just kept going. I did not want to stop," Larry Leckenby said Monday. "If I stopped, I knew that would be it."
The ache's all over now, but the Wellsville man is grateful to be resting at home, dry and warm.
Last Wednesday, he was in northeastern Wyoming in the Bighorn Mountains, headed into the national forest to fix that disabled snowcat.
"It was storming before I left," he said.
Leckenby was staying at Bear Lodge in the Bighorn National Forest. His company sells and services snowcats owned by national parks and resorts for grooming trails. Leckenby was there to work on a snowcat that had broken down 22 miles out on a snow-groomed road.
Repairs had already been delayed several days, so he was sent out early Wednesday by himself to fix it in a snowstorm. Leckenby was riding a snowmobile, pulling a sled with tools and equipment for the job.
"Sometimes you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you," he said.
He was making good progress, but there was plenty of snow on the groomed trail, and little visibility.
"Every 10 feet there was a snowdrift that was two or 3 feet deep," Leckenby said.
As he rounded a lookout on the road known as Observation Point, roughly 17 miles from the lodge and 9,000 feet above sea level, he ran into a deep drift.
"I got on top of the snowdrift and the left side collapsed and rolled me and the snowmobile over," Leckenby said. "I held on to the handlebars."
He said he tumbled about 100 yards into chest-deep snow. In pain, he made a quick assessment of his body and realized he had hurt his calf and wrenched his back and shoulder in the fall.
Leckenby tried to get a handle on the snowmobile but realized he would have to leave it and crawl back back to the road, which was a very steep assent.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," he said.
After an hour he was back on the road, winded and exhausted. But he was still 17 miles from the lodge in a blizzard, enduring a minus-10 degrees Farenheight wind chill.
Leckenby said he thought about building a snow cave but realized no one was going to find him. He knew that no one knew exactly where he was that morning.
The snowmobile was in the ravine, but Leckenby's equipment sled was still on the road. So, he grabbed a bottle of water from the sled and started walking.
As he made the 6 1/2 hour trek in a driving snowstorm, Leckenby pictured his wife's face to keep him going. His snowmobile clothes and helmet kept him warm and reasonably dry, he said.
Leckenby estimates he made it about 15 miles — roughly 2 miles shy of the lodge — when he was ready to collapse. He wanted to just sit down and give up.
They pulled up. I kind of looked around. He asked me if I needed a ride, and at that time I collapsed.
He wasn't thinking clearly any longer, he said, when four members of a youth ministry, out for a day ride, spotted him. He'd seen no one on the snowy road all day before they arrived.
"They pulled up. I kind of looked around," Leckenby said. "He asked me if I needed a ride, and at that time I collapsed."
The group gave Leckenby a ride back to the lodge, where rescuers warmed him up by the fire. That's when he broke down.
"I couldn't stop myself from crying, because I realized I almost died," Leckenby said.
In a follow-up email, the leader of the youth ministry told him he surely would not have made it out alive had they not come along when they did. But Leckenby lived to see his inspiration, his wife's face, again.
"Just knowing that he's OK means everything," said Sunny Leckenby, smiling in her living room as tears rolled down her cheek. "That he's home with me, it just means everything to me."
She didn't know exactly what was going on while her husband was trudging through the snow in the Bighorn Mountains, but she was a bit worried that she hadn't heard from him in two days before he got home. But she said it doesn't surprise her that he made it out alive.
"Determination is not lacking with him," Sunny Leckenby said said. "When he puts his mind to something, he can accomplish it."
Larry Leckenby said he's never going to have to ride a snowmobile again for work. He's glad he can walk away with a pulled calf and a bad back and shoulder after that ordeal.
"It was treacherous," he said. "I mean, it was scary. But the good Lord was watching out for me."