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Bill Troutwine: My Most Memorable Thanksgiving Dinner

Bill Troutwine can't forget the Thanksgiving Dinner in 1995. Not a feast. But then, for most of us, it isn't the grandest meal we ever had which is most memorable or most appreciated. This one, so simple, is sandwiched within one of Bill Troutwines most unforgettable days; it's a story his closest critics, his family call one of his best
Next previous Bill Troutwine (Yes, it's been way to long) Montana Story: The Mule That Could Out Run Secretariat, posted on 2014-04-27 09:30:22

By Bill Troutwine

It was Thanksgiving morning. The year was 1995. Donna, my wife and I were living in Big Sky, Montana where I worked as a resident Deputy Sheriff. My patrol area was a 100 mile long and 10 to 15 mile wide stretch of area called the Gallatin Canyon. This area begins at the community of Gallatin Gateway and ends 15 or so miles past West Yellowstone at the Idaho border.

The day before I had worked my regular shift, starting at 4:00pm and ending at 2:00am. Donna and I were planning on a noontime Thanksgiving dinner before I would go to work at 4:00pm. But in emergency work, plans can change at a moments notice, and ours were about to.


A 5:30am phone call was medical emergency up at Deer Lake

At 5:30am the phone woke me. It was our dispatch center. I was told we had a medical emergency up at Deer Lake. Deer Lake is located high in the Spanish Peaks (a portion of the Rocky Mountains) and is accessible only by foot or horseback, or in emergencies by helicopter. Dispatch said they needed me to coordinate the rescue of a hiker/camper believed to be having an attack of appendicitis. The dispatcher said a partner of the victim hiked up to a peak where he was able to get a cell signal and reported the incident. The dispatcher said he had to leave his partner and hike a mile or so up on top of a peak to get the signal and he would not be calling again since he did not want to leave his buddy alone anymore. I said "you don't need me, just give the location and all information to the chopper pilot and send them in to pick him up". She said "you haven't looked outside yet this morning, have you"? I raised my shade and looked out to see nothing but pure white. There was at least 6 inches of snow on the ground and flakes as big as half dollars falling in a near whiteout.

There was no way a chopper could fly

Now with the conditions the way they were, there was no way a chopper could fly. So I got up and headed to our little sub-office in the Big Sky Fire House. On my way to the office I was racking my brain trying to decide how we were going to rescue this guy.

On arriving at the office I contacted our search and rescue team, and asked what they had in mind? They said they thought they should hike in and carry him out on a stretcher. I wasn't in favor of that, because it was about an 8 mile hike climbing from 6,000 foot elevation to over 11,000 feet, with a very rocky trail with flat rock ledges all in the trail. Snow was still falling and it was close to a foot deep now, at the trailhead. That meant the snow was much deeper at the higher elevations and would probably be 2 to 3 foot deep up around Deer Lake.

Hikers very worried at 8:00am

It was now about 8:00am. Dispatch had first been contacted by the friend at 5:00am, and the hikers were very worried and wondering why no one had showed up yet. I imagine to them, being on top of that mountain in a snowstorm and one of them about to die, 3 hours must have seemed like eternity. So the friend had hiked back up on that peak and called again wanting to know where the rescuers were?

I had dispatch patch him into my office so I could talk directly with him. He told me his partner was getting much worse and if we didn't get there soon he was afraid we would be retrieving a corpse. I told him I was doing everything possible and we would get them out, just go back down with your friend and keep him as comfortable as possible. I said "just wait with him, and I promise you, we'll be there".

Idea occurred that if anyone could get to hikers, it would be Ed Hake

Ed Hake is an outfitter in Big Sky and he takes hunters into that area regularly during hunting season, and is very familiar with the trail, and the lake area. His horses have made that climb up to Deer Lake many times, and it dawned on me if anyone could get to the lake in these conditions it would be Ed.

Ed said that if he couldn't get them out, no one could

I called Ed and advised him of our situation, and asked if he thought he could make it up to the lake, and help us get these guys out of there. He said "if I can't then no one can". I told him to bring four horses if he could, because I wanted to send a paramedic with him, plus we need two horses to carry the campers out. Ed said he would be at the trailhead in an hour or less. I advise the rescuers waiting at the trailhead of our plan, and told the paramedic to pack his medical kit but keep it small as possible as he would be going in on horseback with Ed Hake.

It was now a little after 10:00am and Ed was at the trailhead. They were ready to start up the trail. It had not stopped snowing and we were looking at anywhere from 18 inches to 2 feet of snow at the trailhead. The paramedic had a radio and I told the rescue team to give Ed a radio, too. Radio communications were pretty good in that area and I wanted constant contact with Ed and Bob our paramedic.

At noon Ed & Bob had arrived at the lake; Bob was checking out patient

At noon Ed called me and said they had just arrived at the lake and Bob was checking out the patient, now. Ed said the snow was so deep on the mountain that it was up to his horses' belly, and his stirrups were actually dragging through the snow.

My Thanksgiving Dinner at the firehouse: A Coke and Peanut Butter Crackers.

It was now past noon, and I hadn't eaten anything all day. There was a candy machine and a coke machine in the fire house so I got a Coke and a couple of packages of peanut butter crackers and set down to eat my Thanksgiving dinner. Donna would be eating turkey, and I was sitting in a small office on the radio trying to get a guy off the mountain alive, eating peanut butter crackers. Not much of a Thanksgiving dinner, but as things turned out it would be my most memorable one.

At 1:00pm, Bob called and said they were on their way out

It was approaching 1:00pm when Bob called and said they were on their way out. He said Ed had put the patient on his horse and Ed was setting on behind him holding him on the horse. The other camper was riding one of the extra horses and the horses were plowing their way through the snow heading down the mountain. It was around 2:30pm when they arrived at the trailhead. Immediately the patient was loaded in an ambulance and was headed to the hospital in Bozeman.

The snow had let up but the road was covered with snow, and it was still extremely overcast, but this was Montana and extreme weather was just a fact of life. Although the roads were bad the ambulance made it to Bozeman without incident. Bob went with the patient and they arrived at the hospital at 4:00pm. Eleven hours after the first cell phone call reached dispatch. It was a very challenging rescue, but with the help of some very capable rescuers the rescue was successful, and a life literally was saved.

Bob said he'd never witnessed anyone in more pain than the rescued hiker

I met with Bob later that evening to collect information about the patient for my report. Bob said he never witnessed anyone in more pain than this patient was experiencing while riding down the mountain. He said the guy would scream to the top of his lungs with every step of the horse, but there was nothing that could be done except keep on coming down the mountain.

Our patient's appendix had ruptured, and it was touch and go for a while, but he recovered and was alive because of some really dedicated people who took some very real risks to save a fellow human being.

Being a cop is not always about fighting, shooting and arresting bad guys. Some of the most rewarding, and memorable times of my law enforcement career is of the times we rescued hurting and stranded people, and maybe even saved a life or two! - Bill Troutwine


This story was posted on 2014-11-27 07:22:18
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