Mathers’ body was discovered in the Elk Fork Creek drainage, about 2 1/4 miles south of U.S. Highway 14/16/20 and roughly 37 miles west of Cody in the Shoshone National Forest.
An autopsy conducted on Monday concluded that Mathers died of hypothermia, the Park County Sheriff’s Office said. He was 61.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said it appears that Mathers crossed Elk Fork Creek during a hike on the afternoon of Jan. 31; photos found on his camera show he apparently started out on the east side of the creek, while his body was found about 20 feet west of the water.
“At some point he crossed that river, whether it was on ice, or whether the ice fell through, it’s hard to tell — or he waded,” Steward said, adding that, given the saturated condition of Mathers’ boots, “I think he got wet at some point.”
Steward said Mathers appeared to be appropriately dressed for a day hike.
“I think it’s just a case of something bad happened, and your body shuts down when you get so cold,” Steward said.
The Park County Search and Rescue Unit put in more than 800 hours of time searching the area for Mathers, with Mathers’ family and private citizens joining the effort; Steward said it was “by far the most difficult search that our volunteers have ever had to conduct.”
“The terrain, winter conditions, and continual bad weather, combined with the fact that we had no idea of Gib’s direction of travel, made the search nearly impossible. However, throughout it all, our personnel continued to search almost every day in an effort to bring Gib home,” Steward said, adding that he was “very relieved” to bring a degree of closure for the family.
Mathers had worked as a reporter for the Tribune for more than a decade, starting in 2005.
He primarily covered the outdoors and always looked for assignments that got him outside.
“We could count on Gib to show up and get the story right,” Bebe Crouse of The Nature Conservancy said Monday.
Crouse added that, “Gib’s writing reflected his love of the outdoors and his passion for the stories of our community; Gib will be sorely missed.”
The Nature Conservancy is just one of many people and organizations who have shared kind words for Mathers and offered condolences to his family, friends and coworkers in the wake of his disappearance.
“Our Powell Tribune family, including former employees who worked with Gib through the years, feels a keen sense of loss,” said Tribune Publisher Dave Bonner. “Gib was our colleague and our friend. Many in our community have expressed their admiration for Gib and his work. Gib’s family is in our thoughts, and we hope there is closure after these long weeks of anguish.”
Tribune General Manager Toby Bonner added that, “Gib was an individual we could count on to gather information and re-tell the story with the pizzazz that only he could deliver. He made readers feel as they were present with him. He had a unique ability to create word pictures in the minds of readers with his descriptive style.”
Mathers had told his supervisor early on the morning of Jan. 31 that he’d be taking some time off. A mail carrier later told the Sheriff’s Office that she saw Mathers taking photographs from his truck along U.S. 14/16/20 sometime before noon. She said that, a couple hours later, she saw his truck empty and parked in a pullout, about a half-mile west of the Wapiti Campground.
Steward said it was not particularly cold that day, though photographs found on Mathers’ camera, apparently taken in the earlier part of his hike, show it was snowing and that the ground was covered in snow in spots.
Steward said the temperatures likely dropped below zero on the night of Jan. 31, making for slim chances of survival.
Tribune workers attempted to locate Mathers on Feb. 2, when he had not checked in. Law enforcement became involved and a formal search began on the morning of Feb. 3, after a Wyoming Highway Patrolman noticed Mathers’ truck parked in the pullout and covered in snow.
Steward said searchers had not gotten as far up the Elk Fork drainage as the local horn-hunter, who rode into the area and discovered Mathers’ body around 11 a.m. Saturday. Mathers, the sheriff said, “was working to get where he got.”