Commissioner rescued after hiking accident

One of three simultaneous calls for Search and Rescue

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Park County Commissioner Jake Fulkerson had to be evacuated by a helicopter on Sunday after his foot became pinned by a boulder on the North Fork.

Fulkerson, of Cody, avoided breaking any bones in the hiking accident, though he may have damaged ligaments and tendons. He was back at work on Monday and planned to attend today’s (Tuesday’s) Park County Commission meeting.

“I got so lucky,” Fulkerson said. “I haven’t been to church in three years, but I’m definitely a God-fearing man.”

His evacuation from Crow Peak above the Shoshone Lodge was just one of three calls for Park County Search and Rescue within a six-hour span on Sunday afternoon.

While they were still helping Fulkerson off the mountainside, search and rescue volunteers were called to help a Minnesota man who’d been attacked by a bear in the Beartooth Mountains (see related story). Then, while they were helping that Minnesota man, they got another call to help look for a 57-year-old Cody woman who’d gone missing west of Crandall. (That woman wound up finding her way back to safety on her own.) Search and rescue volunteers then spent much of the night helping one of the attacked Minnesota man’s companions make his way out of the Beartooths.

“I am so proud of these volunteers,” Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said of the search and rescue members. “After hiking up and down the steep terrain of Crow Peak to rescue a trapped hiker, they returned to Cody and prepared themselves to begin a second and then a third search, never questioning any of it. They hiked for seven hours in the pitch black wilderness; fording a river that was waste deep.”

“This is why our residents and visitors alike can feel confident that help is on the way should they ever have the need,” Steward added “These are true heroes.”

Fulkerson was certainly appreciative after his ordeal on Crow Peak.

“I just can’t say enough about Park County Search and Rescue,” Fulkerson said, also praising Cody Regional Health EMTs, Shoshone Lodge personnel and others who assisted him.

Fulkerson had headed up Crow Peak to look for a 100-foot long stone arrow in the area. Mike Christiansen, the owner of nearby Shoshone Lodge, insisted that Fulkerson take a radio with him on the trek. Fulkerson was already carrying a SPOT satellite device, supplies and gear — and had his dog tagging along.

“I said, ‘I don’t need your radio,’ and he [Christiansen] said, ‘Just humor me,’” recalled Fulkerson.

That radio would prove a big help.

Fulkerson, 59, summited Crow Peak with no trouble, but on the way down, while traversing some scree, he touched a several hundred pound boulder. It rolled onto his foot and just like that, he was pinned.

“It’s just crazy. You never think it’s going to happen,” Fulkerson said. “And then when it goes wrong, it just goes wrong so fast. It was so spooky to see that thing on my foot.”

He radioed Christiansen for help, and the lodge owner began heading Fulkerson’s way with two of his wranglers. Although Fulkerson was a little reluctant, a sheriff’s deputy who happened to be at the lodge, Sgt. Chad McKinney, recommended calling search and rescue. The volunteers and EMTs from Cody Regional Health began heading that way around 12:30 p.m.

It was only about 15 minutes later that the pain in Fulkerson’s leg became “excruciating,” he said, adding, “It got worse and worse.”

About 45 minutes in, shock began setting in, as Fulkerson began shaking and dry heaving. Then his entire leg went numb.

Christiansen and his wranglers — who scrambled up the slope in cowboy boots — later reached the scene and were able to free his foot after a couple tries with a pry bar.

“That took a lot of pressure off, but there was no way I was walking,” said Fulkerson.

Search and rescue volunteers and the EMTs arrived after that, which were a welcome sight.

A helicopter from Guardian Flight was also dispatched to the scene, but the crew was unable to land anywhere near Fulkerson, who was stuck on what he described as a 45-degree slope.

“Due to the steep terrain at the scene, it was decided that the safest way to evacuate Fulkerson was to request a ‘short haul’ helicopter from Tip Top Search and Rescue out of Sublette County,” said Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the search and rescue coordinator. As Mathess explained, a short haul “involves a rescuer being lowered on a rope from a hovering helicopter, to a victim below.”

A Tip Top Search and Rescue member was lowered down to the Crow Peak slope, then Fulkerson was loaded into a harness, lifted off the mountain and lowered to a waiting Cody Regional Health ambulance. He was impressed with the team’s work amid the trees and loose rock on the slope.

Given how many people were involved in the rescue, “It was really embarrassing to find out there was nothing broken,” Fulkerson laughed. “But now I realize how lucky I am.”

When he came out of the West Park Emergency Room Sunday night, he found his dog waiting for him; Sgt. McKinney had brought the canine from the Shoshone Lodge.

“Only in Cody,” Fulkerson said.

In the midst of his evacuation, around 3:45 p.m., some members of the Park County Search and Rescue team were summoned to the Beartooths to help the Minnesota man who’d been attacked by a bear. That man wound up being flown to Billings for treatment.

Meanwhile, just before 6:30 p.m., a Cody man reported that his wife, Kelli C. Snyder, 57, had gone missing on a hike about three-and-a-half hours earlier west of Crandall.

“PCSAR regrouped and prepared to re-deploy its members returning from the Crow Peak rescue to the Crandall area,” Mathess said, while an airplane that had been deployed to look for the Minnesota man was rerouted to look for Snyder.

However, at 7:45 p.m., Snyder made it to a phone at the Painter’s Outpost, reporting that she’d made it out unharmed, but tired.

“She said she hiked up as high as she could from where she became separated from her husband and was able to get her bearings before walking out to the store,” Mathess said.

Search and rescue’s efforts didn’t wrap up until roughly 2:15 a.m. Monday, when the Minnesota’s man companion was brought safely out of the Beartooths.

Mathess described it as a “very busy Sunday” for search and rescue.

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