Man rescued on North Fork

Posted 6/8/10

“My girlfriend told me, ‘I'm cooking breakfast,'” he said. “I told her I was just going to look for horns, and I'd be back in an hour and a half.”

Bishop left the campground in a light drizzling rain around 8 a.m., …

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Man rescued on North Fork


Search and Rescue fords raging river to bring hiker to safetyA Sunday-morning horn-hunting expedition on the North Fork turned into more than Donovan “Shane” Bishop of Cody bargained for after he became disoriented in thick fog and was stranded on the north side of the rain-swollen Shoshone River.According to the 38-year-old Bishop, who was camping at Wapiti Campground with his girlfriend, Jacque Skinner, of Cody, he set out early Sunday morning with Skinner's dog, Grizzly.

“My girlfriend told me, ‘I'm cooking breakfast,'” he said. “I told her I was just going to look for horns, and I'd be back in an hour and a half.”

Bishop left the campground in a light drizzling rain around 8 a.m., dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and carrying no food or water. Bishop and Grizzly crossed to the north side of the river via the Sweetwater bridge and ascended the mountain to the north.

Bishop said the mist became thick up high, and he quickly became disoriented in the dense timber. Attempts to find his way back to the campground led to more frustration.

“From the top of the mountain, I could see everything,” he said. “My girlfriend's dad said, ‘If you ever get lost, just follow the water; it'll take you to the river.' ”

Bishop did just that, reaching the river but soon finding himself stranded when he came to the rock face below Holy City that would allow no further progress downstream.

He again retreated to higher ground, where he pinpointed the ranger station, but he was unable to make his way there when he reached the thick forest below. By Bishop's estimate, it was 2 or 3 p.m. by then (he was not wearing a watch), and he began to get nervous.

“It was getting dark, and I was unfamiliar with the woods,” he said. “The last thing I had to eat or drink was the night before, I didn't have a weapon, matches or dry clothes.”

While his initial plan was to walk the river's edge to where he could cross via a bridge, when he arrived at the point where the river approaches the highway near Horse Creek, “I stayed right there, right there where I could see the road.”

As people drove by on the highway across the roiling river — including Skinner and her father — he screamed and jumped up and down, attempting to attract their attention.

His attempts failed until he saw a passerby in a Jeep with her window open a crack.

“I about busted my tonsils screaming at every vehicle that went by. Thank God that lady had her window down,” Bishop said.

The woman, whose name he doesn't know, drove back toward town until she got a cell phone signal and was able to call 911 around 5:30 p.m. However, because Bishop was on dry land (as opposed to in the river), was uninjured and in apparent good health, the reporting party was told that Search and Rescue would not be sent to Bishop's aid. The woman then went to Wapiti Campground, where she found Skinner and apprised her of Bishop's predicament. Skinner and Chuck Quillen, a Forest Service volunteer, made subsequent calls to 911 and were told the same thing.

“They said his best bet would be to start walking,” Quillen said.

Terry Root, the Wapiti District ranger for the Shoshone National Forest, said, “I find it a very confusing and disappointing response by the people in that office (sheriff's department).”

A group of the couple's friends and family members, along with Wapiti Campground host Tim (who declined to give his last name), decided to rescue Bishop themselves. Tim was prepared to kayak across the river, but was dissuaded by others due to the high current. Ultimately, the group used a compound bow to shoot a rope across to Bishop to attempt to pull him — and Grizzly — across the river. That approach was deemed to be unsafe as well.

“My people had called at least five times, his girlfriend called, and a tourist,” Root said. “That means they'd (sheriff's office) been contacted at least seven times. Another thing that concerned me, and my people, was that his friends attempted to rescue him by shooting a rope across with a bow and arrow. What would have happened?

“The moment he hit that river, he wouldn't have been able to hold on, and we'd be retrieving a body today. I wouldn't want that liability.”

Around 8 p.m. — after more rain and with darkness approaching — Search and Rescue crews finally were dispatched to the scene.

According to Deputy Sheriff and Search and Rescue liaison officer Kirk Waggoner, “I was out of town when it (the situation) first started, but it was initially not determined to be an emergency ... This person had walked there by himself, and there's no reason that we could determine that he couldn't walk back. That he had walked too far and didn't want to walk back didn't really constitute an emergency and (necessitate) an expensive rescue at tax-payer expense.

“How do you get lost on a river?” Waggoner asked. “You either walk upstream or downstream.”

However, Root disagrees: “At that point, he can't walk up or downstream, he would have had to make an ascent around Holy City. He had relayed that he'd made two attempts to find his way out of there already, and dispatch had been informed of that.”

Waggoner also added, “Initially, it appeared that the rescuers would be in greater danger than the subject was at that time.”

But according to Root, “How can you determine … that you're putting your individuals at risk when you haven't been there to assess the situation? You don't make that armchair call from an office in downtown Cody.”

Due to cool, rainy conditions, and with nightfall imminent, Waggoner said, “We decided to treat it like it was (an emergency). We decided to err on the side of caution, even though I don't think it was in the end, and we will not be sending him a bill, even though it (the rescue) cost about $1,500.”

A pontoon boat was piloted across the river by swift water technicians Ed Canning and Greg Blessing to pick up Bishop and ferry him across. The boat then made a second crossing to bring Grizzly to safety as well.

“That man piloting that boat is a hero in my book,” Bishop said, adding, “Those people in that Jeep — if it wasn't for them, I'd still be sitting there.”

He also expressed gratitude to his friends and to the campground host, Forest Service employees and others who offered their assistance.

“If I ever go into the woods again, it will be with someone else. I'll have food and water and things,” he said. “I just planned on being out for an hour or so, and I got turned around.”

“If he had to stay out all night,” Root added, “it could have been a very bad deal. It was a recipe for disaster.”

Additional caution necessary this time of year

Sunday's rescue operation on the North Fork highlights dangerous springtime conditions on the Shoshone National Forest.

Wapiti District Ranger Terry Root said, “It's extremely volatile right now, with flooding going on. We have campers stuck in the mud up Sunlight ... We have some really dangerous situations going on in the forest right now. We actually lose more people and get more people hurt this time of year — particulary due to hypothermia. With cool temperatures, and rising water in creeks and rivers, being out is dangerous. People don't understand the precautions to take this time of year.”

Root said it's important for people to dress appropriately — and for rapidly-changing weather conditions — and to wear proper footwear.

He also said people should have food and water, even if they're only setting out on short excursions. Bears are active this time of year, posing additional dangers.

“People fail to recognize (the dangers),” Root added, “because they think it's summer.”