All I really wanted to do was hide out and avoid the excitement of the upcoming 4th of July weekend. I failed.
I’ve been camped for three days at the end of Forest Road 2124, a little spur off the Beartooth Highway on the plateau at 10,164 feet along the Montana-Wyoming border. Things were nice and peaceful until Saturday, when two or three dozen day trippers show up, and the parking area fills up with hikers and mountain bikers, all headed down the trail that goes off across the tundra. Great, I say to myself. Loose dogs, loud kids… all these people need to get off my lawn.
I was actually glad when it started to cloud up in mid-afternoon. When the rain and pea-sized hail began to fall around 4 PM, the parking lot cleared out in a hurry, and I was relieved – until I noticed that there was still one car in the parking lot. NOT good. Someone was still out on the trail.
As it got dark, I left my porch light on as a beacon – from here you can see clear across a large depression with a little lake in it, probably a glacial cirque, but still the car sat there. Around 11 PM, two EMT staff from the Red Lodge, MT fire and rescue operation showed up – dispatch had gotten a weak cell phone call from the two bikers saying they were lost. The flashing emergency lights of their truck made a much better beacon than my porch light, and one of them went down the trail a mile or so, but no luck. The overnight temperature was in the mid-40s, and these bikers were cold, wet and ill equipped for a night at 10,000 feet. NOT good.
At dawn, the cavalry arrived – four trucks with local search and rescue volunteers and sheriff’s office staff. Out came the spotting scopes, fancy mountain bikes, radios, maps, and the group quickly developed and implemented a strategy to search the trail and nearby drainages. I provided coffee, internet access through my satellite dish, and weather radar displays, which were greatly appreciated. They had maybe 8-10 hours before the thunderstorms were going to return, and needed to work fast. By 6:30 AM they had divided into groups and were fanning out down the trail and across the area.
The spotter on the large monocular spotting scope soon located two people on foot walking along a ridge a mile or so distant, and radios crackled. A little after 8 AM, the bikers were found by the rescue staff, rehydrated, given granola bars, and slowly walked back to the parking area. They had taken a wrong turn and were lost when the weather turned bad. One of their bikes had been incapacitated with a flat tire, and they had left it, huddled together through the night, and were warming up in the morning sun and making their way to high ground when they were spotted.
They had seen moose and mountain goats, but thankfully nothing more, um… carnivorous. They indicated that they wouldn’t be seeking out any more wilderness experiences in the near future, thanked the rescue staff, and accepted my offer of hot coffee and a WiFi hookup to email the worried folks back home.
The rescue staff also thanked me for the support – having internet connectivity up here on the Beartooth Plateau is so uncommon that they didn’t bring much of their communications equipment, expecting to be limited to radios. I had WiFi, hot coffee, a rescue cat on standby if needed. It was an unexpected opportunity to provide assistance thanks to being able to provide the rescuers with descriptions of the bikers and the timeframe of their departure, and also I was able to provide many things you wouldn’t expect to find on a mountain plateau, thanks to the functionality of my Roadtrek. I didn’t plan on all the company and excitement, but it was good to be able to help. Needless to say, everyone was happy that we had a good outcome.
Then the rescuers and bikers drove off. For an hour or so, I was alone again. And then Sunday’s crop of day trippers showed up with bikes, tank tops and flip-flops, and headed down the same trail after posing for a group photo. I check the weather – severe thunderstorms with hail again this afternoon. I might as well stay here, and get the coffee pot ready – got a big holiday weekend coming up, and city folks want to get out and have a wilderness experience… I’ll leave the porch light on for them.