I'm trying to find a YA novel that I read sometime between 1977 and 1980 from our public library (after I started reading "big books" in second grade, but before we moved from that town). Two notes:

  • We lived in a small town in Iowa (USA) with an underfunded library that had a lot of older books, so I strongly suspect that this novel may have been written any time from the late 40's on. This library had many books which had been written in the 1920's and 1930's.

  • Although I was definitely under age 10 when I read it, it was more-than-likely written for YA, since that's where I gravitated to in the library at the time (unlike the school librarian, whom I referenced in this post, our public librarian was very much an enabler for me in this pursuit - giving a shout-out to Mrs. Brown!).

Story Description

Plot points that I remember include:

  • A boy (early-to-mid teens) was in a small plane with either his father (a businessman) or his father's pilot.

  • The plane crashed in a mountain wilderness; pilot was killed, boy survived.

  • Boy was rescued and nursed back to health by an old man. (Note: I seem to remember that the old man had been part of the Klondike gold rush in the 1890's, but I'm not certain).

  • By the time the boy was healthy enough, it was too late in the year to hike out before winter, so plans were made for the boy to winter with the old man and hike out in the spring.

  • Boy learned how to survive a mountain winter from the old man.

  • Old man died during the winter, boy survived alone until spring.

  • In the spring, boy was found by a search plane.

  • I found a similar story published in 1983 and doesn't include an old man, but other wise matches the description. Could this be it? Apr 10, 2017 at 16:33
  • I'm reasonably certain that it's not, because I had to have read it before June, 1981, when we moved away from that town. But please post a link, on the chance that I'm wrong about that or you're wrong about the date of publication. Thanks!
    – Deacon
    Apr 10, 2017 at 16:36

2 Answers 2


The book is Canyon Winter by Walt Morey, originally published in 1972.

The private plane taking Peter to his wealthy father's ranch crashes in the Rockies, and its pilot is killed. Struggling to survive, and sure that no one will rescue him, Peter stumbles across rough and unforgiving Omar Pickett, who has lived in the mountains for years. Peter must rely on Omar--and learn to rely on himself.

It's on this list of YA adventure stories about plane crash survival, immediately above another fondly-remembered book, Danny Dunn on a Desert Island, by Jay Williams. Key words used for the Google search were: ya wilderness survival stories published before 1980.


I grabbed a copy from Amazon and it was definitely Canyon Winter. Interestingly, I totally forgot about the stuff that happened after Peter was rescued. That must not have interested me the last time I read it, when I was 9 or 10. I think this must also have been the book that started my life-long love of sourdough, which I know started before I was 15.


Okay, I found a book which is reasonably similar, however it was published in 1983 and doesn't include an old man.

It is called Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia:

Brian Robeson is a thirteen-year-old son of divorced parents. As he travels from Hampton, New York on a Cessna 406 bush plane to visit his father in the oil fields in Northern Canada for the summer, the pilot suffers a massive heart attack and dies. Brian tries to land the plane, but ends up crash-landing into a lake in the forest. He must learn to survive on his own with nothing but his hatchet—a gift his mother gave him shortly before his plane departed.

Throughout the summer, Brian learns how to survive in the vast wilderness with only his hatchet. He discovers how to make fire with the hatchet and eats whatever food he can find, such as rabbits, birds, turtle eggs, fish, berries, and fruit. He deals with various threats of nature, including mosquitos, quail, a porcupine, bear, skunk, moose, wolves, and even a tornado. Over time, Brian develops his survival skills and becomes a fine woodsman. He crafts a bow, arrows, and a fishing spear to aid in his hunting. He also fashions a shelter out of the underside of a rock overhang. During his time alone, Brian struggles with memories of home and the bittersweet memory of his mother, whom Brian had caught cheating on his father prior to their divorce.

When a sudden tornado hits the area, it draws the tail of the plane toward the shore of the lake. This triggered his thoughts that there may be a survival pack of some sorts on the plane. Brian makes a raft from a few broken off tree tops to get to the plane. When Brian is cutting his way into the tail of the plane, he drops his hatchet in the lake and dives in to get it. Once inside the plane, Brian finds a survival pack that includes additional food, an emergency transmitter, and a .22 rifle. Back on shore, Brian activates the transmitter, but not knowing how to use it, he thinks it is broken and throws it aside. However, his distress call is heard by a passing airplane, and he is rescued. Brian spends the remainder of the summer with his father but does not disclose his mother's affair.

Could this be it? It seems to be a reasonably famous book (Cover says over 2 million copies sold) so it might be something your library had.

  • It's close, but based on the full description, I know for certain that it's not it, especially since the Wiki you cited shows it was published in 1987, and Goodreads says 1986. I would've been a HS junior when it came out, and it's not something I would've read at that point.
    – Deacon
    Apr 10, 2017 at 16:44
  • @DougR. ah ok. I'm finding it hard to find stuff because when you type in the keywords the most common result is a report on an actual plane crash. Will keep trying though... Apr 10, 2017 at 16:46
  • You're experiencing the exact same issue I've always found. I'm reasonably certain this one was written sometime in the 1940's, since I seem to remember that the old man had been part of the Klondike gold rush, which was 1890's.
    – Deacon
    Apr 10, 2017 at 16:47
  • OTOH, your idea prompted the memory that the old man had been a prospector.
    – Deacon
    Apr 10, 2017 at 16:49
  • 4
    Hatchet was what I immediately thought of when seeing this question too. @DougR. Maybe have a look through this list and this one and see if anything jogs your memory?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Apr 10, 2017 at 17:47

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