This is a story about the unexpected that happens at the wrong time in the wrong place. It starts out as a lark, a three day hike into the wilderness of the Wind River Mountains to one of the most beautiful places on this planet. The four of us, me, two HS friends and my father, strike out on the trail that begins high above Ft. Washakie at a mountain meadow called Dickinson Park. It is a long hike of about eight miles if I remember correctly. Most of hike is uphill as we head towards our destination, Cathedral Lake (see photo by Tom Rudkin). We make the hike in good shape and the first order of business is to get in some fishing.
Early the next morning Bill and I strike out to do some serious fishing and plan to stay until later in the afternoon. Bob decides to stay not too far from camp along with my father. Sometime, I think in the early afternoon, my father decides we need some firewood for cooking and staying warm as night falls. So, out comes the big axe and he begins to chop a dead tree to make smaller pieces for the fire. Then the trouble happens! While hacking at the dead tree, the axe slips off and ends up buried into my fathers instep. Wow! Bob must have been close enough to hear my father call for help and returned to the camp to help as best he could. We were not well-prepared for an accident of this magnitude and the limited first aid stuff we had did not include anything to help with the pain and possible infection such a serious wound might cause.
Bill and I returned to camp about 4 PM to find out what has happened while we were away fishing. So, here we are more than 6 miles from any kind of help. There were no cell phones, radios, etc to call for help, so what to do? We held a council among the four of us to try to figure out what we could do. After some deliberation it was decided two of us must go back to Dickinson Park and seek some assistance there. We knew there was a ranch there and they had horses to rent so perhaps that was a possible way to get my wounded father back out to our car and then to emergency assistance. So, Bill and I headed out on the trail back to Dickinson Park, some eight miles or more. By the time we started it was already late afternoon and we knew we had to hurry or it would be dark before we could get all the way out to the ranch. Fortunately we were in reasonable shape after football and basketball so we literally ran down the trail as fast and as far as we could go with a brief rest now and then. By the time we got to the trail head it was dark but we were able to get down the dirt road to the ranch.
In the meantime, my father and poor Bob were having a very, very bad night. In addition to the pain of the wound my father was beset by mosquitos all night and there was little or no sleeping for him or Bob that very long night. It was clearly imperative that somehow Bill and I get back as soon as possible to try to get my father out of the wilderness and to some assistance soon.
The folks at the Gustin ranch were very helpful. They put Bill and I in a bunkhouse for the night and we rented a horse by first light the next morning. We made a quick trip back to Cathedral Lake, taking turns riding and running along side. We got there sometime in the late morning to find things were getting worse with time. My father had ridden horses many times so he was able to ride the rented horse with no problems. Bill, Bob and I loaded up all the camping gear and we headed back out to Dickinson Park. By late evening we were able to get back to Riverton where the doctor took care of the axe wound as best he could. ln those days the remedy for such wounds (a method used extensively in WWII) was to load the wound with sulfur to try to stop infection. Fortunately after some convalescence my father did not suffer any permanent disability due to the axe wound. All in all an unfortunate end to what should have been a wonderful time in the high country of the Wind River Mountains. My bucket list includes one more trip to Cathedral Lake, a beautiful place indeed.
THE ULTIMATE IRONY OF THE WHOLE THING WAS THAT MY FATHER WAS THE TEACHER OF AXE SAFETY FOR MANY BOY SCOUT CAMPS IN WYOMING!!