When Sawtooth Search and Rescue Commander Gary Gadwa heard that an elderly couple got lost on their way to Bench Lake near Stanley, he had no idea what it would take to find them and return them to civilization.
“It was an interesting one, to say the least,” Gadwa said.
According to Gadwa, two people staying at the Redfish Lake Lodge decided to take a hike at about 9:30 a.m. May 27. He said they wanted to see Bench Lake, but they fell into the pitfall of being unprepared for a long hike.
“That’s a strenuous hike with some wet and snowy areas,” Gadwa said. Younger hikers with proper supplies and gear would have been able to make it to the lake, but both of the hikers were in their 70s and had taken only their cellphones, water and some snacks.
The second mistake the couple made on their hike, Gadwa said, was getting lost and going off-trail. After they left the lodge they missed the turnoff to Bench Lake and wound up near Fishhook Creek Trail. The man tried to cross the creek to reach another trail, a move Gadwa said was inadvisable.
“I have no idea where his head was making that decision,” Gadwa said. This decision only made the couple more confused, wet and cold as the sun was going down.
At 9:55 p.m., the couple bit the bullet and called 911. They were patched through to Gadwa, who’s familiar with the area. Gadwa went out that night looking for the couple. He thought he would find them near Fishhook Creek in an area full of deadfall trees. However, because the couple had difficulty moving, they were still slogging through a boggy marsh close the creek. Gadwa stayed in phone contact with the couple and was able to guide them to his position.
“I started blowing a whistle every few minutes and told them to call me when they heard it,” Gadwa said. “The lady kept calling, worried, because she couldn’t hear the whistle.”
Using her cellphone’s flashlight, the woman was able to get Gadwa’s attention and the couple met him, exhausted in both supplies and strength.
Gadwa tried to help them out of the woods, but because of their advanced ages, the going was slow. Finally, at 2 a.m., Gadwa called his wife for assistance. Fellow Sawtooth Search and Rescue workers Terry Clark and Gary Cvecich met Gadwa and the couple after they got out of the bog.
The three men decided to wait till daylight to head back out. At about 5:45 a.m., Gadwa and his troop set out. Gadwa, Clark and Cvecich quickly realized that even with a few hours of rest, the hikers would not make it back to Redfish Lake Lodge without assistance. Gadwa called nearby Mystic Saddle Ranch. The ranch manager quickly responded and met Gadwa with several horses for him, his associates and the couple.
The hikers were so exhausted and weakened by the experience, Gadwa said “we had to help them onto the horses.” At about 9:30 a.m., the group made it to Gadwa’s vehicle.
The situation could have been avoided if the couple had taken a moment to plan their hike out with a map, Gadwa said.
“I think they just didn’t think,” Gadwa said. “They could have died of exposure.”
When he dropped the couple off at the lodge the woman looked at Gadwa and said, “I’m never going hiking with him again.”