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Originally published May 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 23, 2007 at 11:36 AM

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Missing runner emerges with miraculous story

Michael Schreck, the Cougar Mountain trail runner, came home late Monday, more than three days after he had vanished. But the questions about...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Michael Schreck, the Cougar Mountain trail runner, came home late Monday, more than three days after he had vanished.

But the questions about his disappearance didn't end with his return.

Schreck wasn't talking Tuesday, but his family released a brief written statement telling of an epic ordeal: three cold, wet nights of unconsciousness in a wooded ravine on Squak Mountain, south of Issaquah, followed by a long hike home after he came to.

After all that, he was in good health, had no injuries and required no medical attention, the King County Sheriff's Office said. His family described his condition as "weak and tired, but all right."

"That to me is just absolutely miraculous. It baffles me," said Brian Morrison, another trail runner who was among the hundreds who searched for Schreck on Cougar and Squak.

"It's a bizarre set of circumstances, right from the get-go."

Schreck's disappearance captivated the region over the weekend, attracting widespread media attention. Some regular users of Cougar Mountain's trails, mystified anyone could vanish from such familiar terrain, continued to look for him even after the official search was suspended Sunday night.

One wilderness-survival expert said it's unlikely anyone could have lived for more than 24 hours under the conditions Schreck's family said he endured, including heavy rain and night temperatures in the 40s. But another expert said survival was possible.

Sgt. John Urquhart said the sheriff's office was taking Schreck's statement at face value, and planned no further investigation. There is no evidence anyone committed a crime, he said, and the episode had a happy ending.

Schreck, 47, left home about 7:15 a.m. Friday, telling his wife, Emily, that he was going running at Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. She reported him missing about 11 that night.

His Ford Explorer was discovered at the park's Red Town Trailhead, between Bellevue and Newcastle. Searchers began looking for him about 1 a.m. Saturday.

Hundreds of volunteers, deputies and family members combed the heavily wooded, 3,000-acre park and neighboring Squak Mountain State Park over the weekend, with no results.

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Then, about 11 p.m. Monday, according to his family, Schreck walked into his house just off Newport Way, south of Interstate 90 in unincorporated King County between Issaquah and Bellevue.

King County deputies interviewed him at the home at about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

"With a massive sigh of relief and gratitude, we are happy to report to all of you that Mike managed to walk himself home in the middle of the night last night," his family said in its written statement.

According to the statement, Schreck decided to go for a long run Friday, over Cougar Mountain to Squak. "Somewhere on Squak he slipped off the trail, fell and was knocked unconscious," the statement continued. "He remained so for days but at some time had managed to roll under a log and cover himself with leaves for warmth."

Schreck regained consciousness Monday, scrambled out of the ravine into which he had fallen, filled his water bottle with muddy water and began retracing his steps about 2 p.m., the statement said.

At dusk — perhaps six hours later — he tried hitching a ride on Highway 900, between Squak and Cougar, but had no luck, according to the statement. "He was so cold and wet he worked his way back over Cougar Mountain and walked down the roads to his home."

Schreck could remember no other details of his ordeal, the sheriff's office said.

Schreck's hike home would have been nine miles or more: at least five miles across Cougar Mountain to the Red Town Trailhead, from which his Explorer had been impounded, plus another four miles on the most direct route to his home, along Lakemont Boulevard Southeast and 164th Avenue Southeast.

Friends and family members walked in and out of Schreck's house throughout the day Tuesday, ascending a steep driveway to reach the hillside home. All declined to elaborate on the episode.

"We're just glad he's home safely," said one cousin.

Andrew Cull, a wilderness-survival expert who runs an international rescue organization in Seattle and has participated in more than 50 wilderness rescues over the past 10 years, said the chances of anyone surviving such an ordeal are very low.

"It's not common that people can survive more than 24 hours," he said. "I would say the odds are definitely against you in that type of environment."

But "there's always that person who makes it," he added, and using leaves for insulation would help.

Tom Clausing, a wilderness instructor in Leavenworth, Chelan County, said people could survive even longer than three nights "if they did the right things" to guard against dehydration, low blood sugar and hypothermia.

But Clausing said he couldn't speculate about how someone who is unconscious might fare.

The cost of the search for Schreck was negligible, Urquhart said. It involved about a half-dozen deputies who would have been on duty anyway, he said, and the other searchers weren't being paid.

"It wasn't enough that we'd tabulate it," Urquhart said.

Morrison, the trail runner and searcher, said that while he found Schreck's story amazing and perplexing, "I'm just glad it had a positive outcome. I wouldn't run out there anymore by myself if I knew it had been foul play."

Times staff reporter Amy Roe contributed to this report.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com

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