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Ice climber rescued following South Fork fall

A Montana climber injured Saturday while ice climbing in a canyon of the South Fork was rescued Sunday and transported to West Park Hospital, where she is recovering.

Two climbers, Hilary Eisen, 27, of Cody and Echo Oak, 33, of Billings, Mont., were reported overdue about 10:15 p.m. Saturday when they failed to call after dark as planned.

The Park County Sheriff’s office Search and Rescue team and others began the search for the missing climbers, who were last seen Saturday around 7 a.m. The women were ice climbing in the Deer Creek drainage southwest of Cody on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

The two had completed the climb and were heading back without their ropes, Eisen said Monday.

Oak was walking across a snowy slope and fell more than 200 feet, Eisen said.

Eisen rapelled down to her friend, then lowered her to the climb’s base. Eisen built a shelter of driftwood, but she was unable to build a fire initially. Later she found some kindling and was able to build a fire, she said.

“It was a long night because she fell at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” Eisen said.

Just after midnight Sunday, a rescue team of approximately 22 members from Search and Rescue, back country emergency medical technicians and local ice climbers embarked on the rescue mission, said Park County Sheriff Scott Steward.

At 4:25 a.m., Sunday, the climbers were found in the steep canyon below Deer Creek trail, Steward said.

“I’ve never been happier when I looked up and saw a headlamp looking down at me,” Eisen said.

Oak was suffering injuries from her fall, and she had severe frostbite to her hands, Steward said.

Rescuers rappelled to Oak, and she was lifted about 50 feet up the vertical face to the trail, Steward said.

From there, rescuers carried Oak on a litter. The rescuers were forced to flatten the trail with a shovel to aid in Oak’s three and one-half mile journey on a stretcher back to the trailhead and the South Fork Road (Wyo. 291), Steward said.

At 3:38 p.m., Oak was carried out to the trailhead and transported by ambulance to West Park Hospital in Cody, Steward said.

Eisen was not hospitalized, Steward said.

“They did a hell of a job,” Steward said of the rescuers.

“I attribute the huge success of this rescue to the outstanding efforts and cooperation by all the rescuers involved,” Steward said.

Amazingly, despite a 200 to 220 foot free-fall, Oak’s only injuries aren't life-threatening. West Park Hospital officials said Monday evening that Oak was in stable condition, recovering from multiple contusions and a pelvic fracture. She also has frostbite, but Oak won’t lose any fingers, Eisen said.

“I think she’ll be fine,” Eisen said. “She is like the world’s toughest woman.”

In a statement released by West Park, Oak said the fall hadn't changed her belief that climbing is a safe sport.

“If you know what you’re doing, you can minimize the risk, but even then you can’t totally eliminate it. Even after this accident, I feel like climbing is as safe as riding a horse, skiing, snowmobiling or any outdoor sport,” she said.

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