A late afternoon search proved to be written like a movie script for Lassie, when Mineral County Search & Rescue (SAR) were called to Alum Creek for a stranded hiker on a rock outcropping.
At approximately 4:15 p.m. on late Sunday afternoon, members of SAR were dispatched by Mineral County Sheriff’s Office for a 92-year-old hiker who was stuck on a cliff and could not go up or down.
SAR headed for the area of Alum Creek after getting directions from Chris Hegg, friend of the hiker Bart Ekren who was on Hegg’s property when he found himself in the predicament.
Closing in on the area where Hegg said Ekren should be located, Vice-President of Mineral County SAR, Dennis Bunch, got out of his vehicle and began calling for Ekren.
“When I got out and started hollering for him, a dog met us and kept barking and coming towards us and looking back at the cliff.”
Member Richard Sylvestri would follow the dog, whose name they later found out is Buddy, while Bunch continued to speak with the stranded after locating him on the cliff-face.
Due to the age of the lost and the situation, it was decided that SAR would use their only certified high-angle member, James Richards, to help get Ekren off the cliff.
While waiting for Richards to get into place with his gear, Bunch with the help of Sylvestri (below Ekren), was able to help him off the face and onto a flatter area where Bunch had cleared a flat spot where the older man could catch his breath before Richards would pick up the rescue.
“We waited in on the ledge, while Richards tied off to a large pinion tree,” Bunch said.
Richards would continue the story by saying, “Using Dennis as an anchor, we pendulumed Ekren down into the draw, worked him down the rope and Dennis was able to get him down to the side-by-side.”
Both members expressed how thankful Ekren was after being off the cliff. Buddy, continued to watch intently, as his master was rescued, barely taking his eyes off the rescuers.
Being prepared is key when outdoors and Ekren was equipped for the hike.
“While we were waiting for Jimmy to finish hooking up, Ekren explained to me that he had called his son off his cell phone at 3 p.m. in Montana, who in turn called Hegg, who called the sheriff’s office,” Bunch said.
When asked for any words of advice, Richards said, “We can’t say ‘know your mountains’ because he was fully aware and is an expert in geology. Just be prepared. He had his phone.”
Ekren, who lives in White Sulfur Springs, Mont., is no stranger to Mineral County. For 92-years old, he has extreme knowledge of the county having mapped the area for United State Geological Survey. Hegg, Bunch and Richards all commented on his ruggedness.
Hegg would tell the Independent-News, “He’s 92 and still kinda tough. He was a machine gunner in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II with the 101 Band of Brothers. Anyone who can be forced to march 200 miles in the blistering freeze to stand our only line of defense, has my utmost recognition.”
“Ekren has told me that the geologic community has announced his [Ekren’s] death no less than three times in publications.”
Ekrens would tell Hegg, “The rumors were exaggerated.”
Appreciative of SAR’s efforts on Sunday, Ekren would tell Hegg, “Well keep their number (SAR’s), I’ll be around all year.”
Only slightly battered and bruised, Ekren and Buddy were reunited with their feet firmly on flat ground.
When asked what one thing went correct on the Sunday search, Richards said, “He came off the mountain.”