George Brien and his daughter had spent about a week hiking in the Bighorn Mountains and planned to spend another week or so enjoying the forest. But a stomach bug quickly sent the trip into a …
George Brien and his daughter had spent about a week hiking in the Bighorn Mountains and planned to spend another week or so enjoying the forest. But a stomach bug quickly sent the trip into a downward spiral, culminating in the father and adult daughter having to be pulled out of the Bighorns via helicopter on July 27.
“Nature’s scary,” Brien said Monday, as he and his daughter continued their recovery from the ordeal. “She takes all your plans and throws them off to the side sometimes.”
He expressed “big thanks” to the Big Horn County Search and Rescue personnel and others who came to their aid.
“If it wouldn’t have been for them, it would have been a severely different story,” Brien said.
The father-daughter duo began their trip July 18 on the back side of Medicine Mountain and hiked around Porcupine Creek before heading up the north side of the mountain. The Powell residents have prior experience in the backcountry, Brien said, and they planned to spend a total of 16 or 17 days in the Bighorns.
But then Brien’s daughter fell ill with some kind of stomach bug, which exacerbated underlying medical conditions. Brien is not sure how she got sick — they were using purification tablets on all their water — but she began losing water very quickly. The trouble was compounded by the hot temperatures in the area.
“As soon as that hit us, that was the icing on the cake,” Brien said.
As they ran out of food and water, he plotted a course back to the road that would take them through Simmons Canyon.
“It looked really good on the map,” he said. “But down on the ground, it was a terrible decision to try and get down through there.”
Brien and his daughter wound up getting stuck in a steep cliff area and couldn’t go any further.
Brien said he could have continued on, but his daughter was in no condition to do so — plus “with dehydration, your thinking really starts going downhill.”
“It was a mess,” he said.
Between the dehydration, the exhaustion and the terrain, “we had to call it in,” he said.
Fortunately, they had cellphone service and were able to reach the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office, which dispatched the search and rescue team late on the afternoon of July 26.
Personnel from the unit hiked into the area, bringing needed food, water and medical supplies.
“When they got to us, we’d been without water for a good 36, almost 48 [hours],” Brien said. “We were up against it.”
The rescuers treated a bad sunburn and began stabilizing Brien’s daughter, staying with them through the night.
Then at daylight, a helicopter and crew from the Wyoming Air National Guard in Cheyenne arrived to evacuate the family members, separately hoisting them out and taking them to a waiting North Big Horn Hospital Ambulance, near the causeway on U.S. Highway 14-AE.
“We owe them,” Brien said of his rescuers.
Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn also praised those involved with the effort — Big Horn County Emergency Management Coordinator LaRae Dobbs, the Wyoming Air National Guard for accepting the mission amid smoky conditions, the ambulance crew and the search and rescue personnel, who responded rapidly and then spent the night in the Bighorns.
“This situation could have had tragic consequences without their rapid response,” Blackburn wrote in a Facebook post.
Given the hot and dry temperatures in the area, “we want to remind everybody to be extremely cautious during this time and make sure they have plenty of water, sunscreen and clothing to protect them from the extreme heat elements,” he said.
Brien’s daughter wound up being hospitalized for about 40 hours, as medical professionals stabilized her condition. Brien was in the hospital for only a couple hours, but that wasn’t the end of his ordeal. The family members had been traveling with two dogs, and while the rescuers attempted to bring both pets to safety, one slipped her collar on the way back. So Brien wound up having to return to the rescue site to find his canine.
“It was just like, just do it or don’t do it, but stop whining about it. So I crawled up there,” he said. “It was a pain; it definitely made me appreciate the guys that had to hike up there to surround us. … You got to bushwhack your way up through there.”
The dog was at the rescue site, still waiting for Brien, which made for a good ending to that chapter of the story. But that still wasn’t the end of Brien’s troubles: Thanks to his dehydration, he developed an excruciatingly painful kidney stone late last week.
“I’ve been severely injured before: I’ve shattered legs, I’ve popped an eyeball before,” he said. “[But that right] there turned me green. … It was something else.”
Fortunately, as of Monday, he was on the mend, as was his daughter.
“We’re getting there,” Brien said. “It’s all downhill from here.”