Idaho Department of Fish and Game senior conservation officer Michael Wampler was getting ready to shut down his patrol vehicle after a long day of bear hunter patrol on June 7 when he heard a call generated from an Idaho State Police emergency call box near Wilderness Gateway on the Lochsa River.
The reporting party said two hikers separated during a day hike up the Boulder Creek Trail. The reporting party stated the hikers were brothers and had not been in contact with each other since midday.
One of the brothers, John, had not returned and was not prepared for spending the night in the woods. He had only light hiking clothes, a dry ramen noodle dinner and only wading shoes. John’s brother said he had a light plastic bag for rain gear and no light source other than a phone.
The call came at 10:30 p.m. with a cold, steady rain and 45 degrees. Dispatch stated that an emergency search and rescue team would head up at daybreak to search for the missing hiker.
Wampler knew hypothermia fatalities could occur in temperatures below 50 degrees, and he knew the temperature would continue to drop throughout the night. Wampler knew there was no time to waste, and he notified dispatch of his plans to head up the trail that night.
Wampler pulled a survival pack from his patrol vehicle, stuffed in a stove and all the spare clothes he had. Donning rain gear, head lamp and hiking sticks, he headed up Boulder Creek in the dark, shouting John’s name every so often. Five miles later, at 1:30 a.m., he got a voice response.
He found the missing hiker cold and wet from head to toe, sitting under a tree off the trail. John was finding it difficult to move, being stiff from the cold.
Wampler helped the hiker into the dry clothes from his pack. Due to damp wood and rain, they could only start a small fire. Wampler fired up his camp stove and made some warm crystal light drink and noodles for John.
As the rain kept falling, the pair decided it was best to hike back down the trail. It was slow going but the right thing to do to keep moving to stay warm.
Wampler had an INREACH communication device with him, and he notified Idaho County dispatch that he found the missing hiker and they were heading back down the trail.
At 5:30 a.m. the pair made it to the Boulder Creek trailhead at Wilderness Gateway, where John was soon warming up in a vehicle and heading to the Lochsa Lodge to reunite with his brother and enjoy a hot meal.
Wampler encouraged hikers to stick together and be prepared for the worst when hiking Idaho’s backcountry.
“You never know how long you might be out for and what weather conditions you might encounter, especially this time of year,” Wampler said. “I’m glad I was able to help get this hiker out safely.”
Wampler recently graduated from post academy and patrols the Lochsa River area.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.