Rick Favel doesn't smoke, but for some reason he still picked up the lighter he noticed on the ground as he unloaded his ATV to go scouting for traditional Indigenous medicines in the Porcupine Forest north of Kamsack, Sask.
"I reached down and picked it up and flicked it and it ignited," Favel said.
"I don't know what made me do it. I put it in my pocket."
Favel says that lighter likely saved his life.
Favel, 65, and his 73-year-old uncle Clayton Episkinew were planning to spend just a few hours Friday afternoon documenting and photographing traditional medicines in the forest north of Kamsack, about 270 kilometres northeast of Regina.
The pair had made the trip many times before. Favel said lots of local First Nations people were out scouting for medicines that day, so he and his uncle took a different path to avoid being a nuisance. They were also on the lookout for muskeg tea, which took them further up into some hills in the forest.
They ran into a wet, muddy patch of road about seven kilometres from the start of the trail. Their side-by-side ATV became waterlogged and quit running. It was about 3 p.m. CST Friday.
Favel said neither man was too worried. They set out on foot walking in the direction they had been driving, thinking the road, like most other roads in the area, would circle back to where they started from.
Not so this time.
"All of a sudden we're walking in lakes, rivers, muskeg and forest, and beaver dams. Walking in waist-high water," Favel said.
I took my pants off and walked in my gitch. I tied my pants around my neck. - Rick Favel
The two men were soaking wet and had to crawl over huge fallen trees with water logged shoes, blue jeans and jackets.
"I was getting so tired I couldn't lift my legs to step up on the trees, so I took my pants off and walked in my gitch. I tied my pants around my neck," Favel said.
Saved by a lighter and a chocolate bar
Sometime after 9 p.m. CST, Favel and his uncle stopped to make camp for the night.
Favel remembered the lighter he'd pocketed earlier in the day.
"That's what saved us that night. I ended up using that to start a fire to dry off our clothes, because we were soaked."
Favel found a spot on a hill with enough cellular coverage to text his partner Tina Hannah-Munns and let her know they were stranded in the forest and attempting to walk out.
Hannah-Munns contacted the Fort Qu'Appelle RCMP, who started searching for the men early Saturday morning along with Kamsack RCMP, local ambulance workers and volunteers.
Matters were further complicated by both Favel and his uncle being diabetic. Thinking they were only out for an afternoon of scouting, they hadn't brought their insulin.
All they had was one bottle of water and the lighter.
"We shared that and then I started drinking from the sloughs," Favel said.
"I was a bit shaky and we were both tired. We wanted to stop and sleep. Our sugar levels were going down."
In another stroke of luck, Favel had grabbed a giant-sized KitKat chocolate bar from the ATV before the two men started walking.
"We would break a piece off of the KitKat and we'd share."
According to weather records, the men were lucky. Temperatures only dipped to 9 C overnight in the area.
Neither man slept that night. They were up and on the move again by about 5 a.m. CST Saturday.
Favel said the morning felt colder than the night. They walked for two hours, eventually crossing a beaver dam and reaching an island where they once again rested.
Tracked through cellular service
They got cell service on the island and Favel called 911. He learned a missing persons report had been filed on them.
Favel's phone died shortly after, but his uncle's still had service.
He said RCMP and volunteer searchers were able to locate them around noon Saturday by tracking the cellular signal from his uncle's phone and yelling through the forest when they got closer.
Favel said he was cold, tired and hungry, but that his uncle was a little worse off.
"He was curled up under the pine trees. He was sleeping. He couldn't stay awake anymore."
Favel and his uncle had to walk out across the beaver dam to get to the rescuers, who couldn't reach the men using ATVs.
Rescuers told Favel the two men were 29 kilometres away from where they left their water-logged ATV.
"It was a happy moment when these men were found safe, and were able to head straight home," Kamsack RCMP Staff Sgt. Noel Allard said in a news release.
"It was the ending everyone involved in this search effort was hoping for. I'm pleased we were able to gather search resources so quickly, and thank our community partners for their efforts."
As for Favel, he said he was never too worried.
"The only reason why I called 911 was because my sugar was dropping," he said.
"I wouldn't have called the authorities 20 ago. I'd have been having fun up there."