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AURORA, Colo. — Minko Nikolov moved to Colorado because of a passion for rock climbing. He says his love for climbing brings him out to Rocky Mountain National Park about 20 times a year. He knows the trails, the rangers and the terrain like the back of his hand.

This past August, he was hiking back down to Dream Lake after it looked like the weather started to turn.

“It wasn’t like a raging storm,” Nikolov said. “It was a very mellow drizzle.”

Trying to play it safe, he huddled under a tree and put on his rain jacket. That’s the last thing he remembers before waking up.

“We saw this giant flash of lightning just fill the sky, sort of pinkish white. Loudest sound I’ve ever heard,” said Josh Cook who was on the same trail with friends that evening. Lucky for Nikolov, Cook and his friends were close by.

“We saw him lying face-down in the mud,” Cook said. “As we get closer, we actually see smoke rising up from him.”

Nikolov broke his jaw in the fall. His mouth was wired shut until Tuesday morning.

“I couldn’t move any part of my body,” Nikolov said. “I looked at my left leg and the whole thing was smoking.”

Nikolov is getting ready for his fourth surgery at the UCHealth Anschutz Medical Campus’ Burn Center in Aurora.

He says hiking alone put him at risk, and if it wasn’t for Cook and his friends finding him, his story may have a different ending.

“I mean, they saved my life — everybody. Like, when you start with the hikers, when you go down to the rangers that came in, the search and rescue team that brought me here,” Nikolov said. “I don’t think there’s anything I can do to pay them back. I just received a very big gift from them.”