MOUNT PLEASANT — A group of local Boy Scouts and their advisers got a little more adventure than they anticipated on a trip earlier this summer to the Yellowstone National Park area in Wyoming.
Five Venture Scouts from Troop 142, based at the Bartlett Youth Foundation, 1120 N. Stuart Road, along with their five adult chaperons and a river guide, rescued a stranded kayaker from the fast-moving waters of the Shoshone River on July 18.
The rescue occurred just three days into a trip for which a hike of the peaks at the Boy Scout-run Camp Buffalo Bill was to be the highlight.
“We were basically going to be living off our backpacks for a week,” said Bill Schroeder, 52, of Racine, one of the scoutmasters for Troop 142.
After spending a couple of days driving and an overnight stay in South Dakota, the group headed to the river where they hooked up with Wyoming River Trips, an outfitter based in Cody, Wyoming. They boarded a rubber river raft along with guide Ethan Slight, a resident of the area and student at Boise State University who works for the outfitter during the summer.
About halfway into their 12-mile whitewater trek down the Shoshone, the group came upon a figure standing on a midstream grassy island. Schroeder said that, at first, everyone thought the man was fly fishing, a popular pursuit on the river. But Slight soon recognized that the man was wearing a helmet worn by river kayakers and rafters.
At the same time, the man spotted the approaching raft and started to wave his hands frantically and yell for help.
“Everyone had that moment when we said, ‘hey this is not right; this guy needs our help,’ “ said David Higgs, 48, of Mount Pleasant, a Venture crew adviser for the Scouts.
Slight told his crew that he was going to reposition the raft so they could reach the man. The raft crew relayed what they were going to do, but the man panicked and jumped into the river in an effort to get to the raft.
“He was in full panic mode,” Higgs said.
But jumping in the water only caused the man to be swept down stream.
With quick paddling by the Scouts and their advisers, the Troop 142 crew was able to reach the man just as the raft and floating kayaker approached the next set of rapids. At that point, Higgs and Schroeder said, the two Scouts in the front left of the raft were able to grab hold of the man’s legs and pull him toward the raft.
With the man held tight against the raft, they rode the next set of rapids, making sure to keep his head above water and prevent him from being pulled under. Once downstream of the rapids, the crew was able to drag the man into the raft.
Schroeder said that once the man was safely on board, the man broke down emotionally due to the trauma of being stranded. The Scouts, trained in wilderness first-aid techniques, checked the man for any injuries and for signs of hypothermia. He was cold — the water was probably only in the 40-degree range with snow runoff from the mountains — but relatively unscathed.
Higgs and Schroeder said that as the crew completed the last 45 minutes of its voyage to reach its landing area, the crew learned that the man rescued was named Ernesto and he was from Chicago. A little Packers-Bears chiding revealed that Ernesto was not suffering severe hypothermia.
As best as can be determined, Ernesto somehow became separated from the kayak group he was with and at some point capsized. Schroeder and Higgs said they never saw Ernesto’s vessel as they completed their trek, but did come across a paddle.
Ernesto was placed between Scouts on the boat to keep warm and once on shore he was in better spirits and took a photo for his rescuers, but left no last name or contact information. Wyoming River Trips officials made arrangements for the outfitter firm Ernesto was working with to come pick up their lost kayaker.
Schroeder and Higgs praised the Scouts of Troop 142 and Slight for their actions during the rescue.
“They (the Scouts) listened to Slight; they remained calm,” Higgs said. “It wasn’t panic, it wasn’t mayhem; it was matter of fact. They did what they learned to do.”
Schroeder said the troop is in the process of applying to Boy Scouts of America for consideration for a national safety award. The process, though, requires much documentation and is not a certainty. The troop is also forwarding information about the incident to Boys Life, the national scouting magazine, for publication consideration.