Imagine living in an action movie. Wouldn't it be cool? No, it wouldn't -- you'd be dead within minutes. No real human being is built to withstand an environment where every car is an explosion waiting to happen, every plane is just looking for an excuse to crash into a mountain, and everyone wears impossibly light and impractical clothing regardless of weather. Well, no real human being except Lauren Elder. In fact, the ordeals she was subjected to in 1976 would probably end up on the cutting room floor for being too unbelievable for even the most ridiculous Steven Seagal movie.
On April 26, 1976, Elder received a surprise: her boyfriend had to back out of a flight to Death Valley due to work, and she was offered his place. Excited, she left the house in such a hurry she didn't even bother putting on underwear, a fashion choice she would come to regret. She and two friends, Jay Fuller and Jean Noller, took off in Fuller's small Cessna 182 in excellent weather and plotted a course to the Sierra Nevada mountains. As Fuller was gloriously zig-zagging the scenery, Elder took in the magnificent sights, capturing the marvelous scenery with her camera.
And then she glanced out of the front window and saw a massive wall of rock rapidly approaching.
Mike Bentley/E+/Getty Images
Not a sight you want to see while traveling airborne at breakneck speeds.
Although the crash was hard enough to break the plane in two, all three somehow managed not to get Jackson Pollocked all over the mountainside. However, Elder's friends soon succumbed to a combination of the elements and their injuries. She was now stuck on a mountain alone, cold, and with no help in sight. Also, she was a freaking artist with precious few mountain survival skills and plenty of severe injuries. Bring that scenario to today, and she'd probably spend her remaining hours figuring out how to pose her soon-to-be corpse ironically. Elder, however, absolutely refused to let a mere plane crash kill her. So she climbed down the 13,264-foot mountain -- that was covered in snow, and at times nigh-impossible to descend. While suffering from a broken arm, shattered teeth, and a bleeding, swollen leg. While wearing freaking heeled boots. The whole "wraparound skirt with no underwear" thing didn't exactly help, either, as strategically timed gusts of freezing wind would helpfully demonstrate.
Jeanine Groenewald/E+/Getty Images
Hey, she's the one who keeps mentioning that part of the story.
Elder's impossible climb required her to descend a 45-degree, frozen mountainside that occasionally veered into even steeper parts. Much of the time, she was forced to move on all fours, despite the fact that two of her limbs were essentially useless. Other times, she butt-skidded over the less steep but equally icy areas, fashioning her skirt as a protective pillow of sorts. Each and every part of this ordeal -- the crash, the injuries, the exposure to the elements, and the insanely challenging climb -- could and by common sense should have been fatal, yet Elder wrestled them all to submission with her sheer will to live. However, Fate still had one last dick move in reserve.
By the time Elder finally reached the base of the mountain, 34 hours with no food and drink had passed since the crash. The exhaustion, need for sustenance, and the whole "holy shit my body is so broken it's insane" conspired to give her constant hallucinations about people and vehicles. This, combined with her by then fairly disheveled appearance, gave her the look of a drugged-up creep. This probably wouldn't have been such a disadvantage, if it wasn't for the fact that Charles Manson had just been arrested and was being held in a jail near there. A number of his female followers had showed up in the town Elder was wandering toward, with her bare feet, bloody and tattered clothing, and dazed behavior. So, despite attempts to flag down passing cars and knock on doors, no one would help the near-dead woman. It was only purely by chance that one motel owner she'd begged for help freaked out enough to call a sheriff, who finally managed to connect the dots between the horror-movie survivor in front of him and the recently reported missing plane.
The book and the movie have somewhat increased her recognizability since.
Having depleted its bag of tricks, Death finally left Elder alone. To give it a final middle finger, she hiked back to the crash site three months later while still wearing a cast.
Pauli Poisuo once survived a Steven Seagal movie marathon. Join his gang on Facebook and Twitter.
For more from Pauli, check out 5 Famous Cities With Creepy Secrets Hiding in Plain Sight and 4 Famous Mysteries With Really Obvious Answers.
Are you on reddit? Check it: We are too! Click on over to our best of Cracked subreddit.