They’re lucky they’re not dead: a couple leaving Yellowstone National Park ignored or missed road-closed signs and ended up stuck in the snow on the Beartooth Highway before a rancher found them.
The couple, Mark and Kristine Wathke of Cornell, Wis., left Yellowstone National Park last week and presumably on their way home when they managed to head up the highway, which officially closed for the season as scheduled on Oct. 15 — but realistically was closed to the public on Sept. 15 because of snow. It’s a little hard to see how they could have missed the closed signs, but they did. As you might expect, bad weather and snow caught up with them around Long Lake. However, with plenty of gas and provisions, the pair hunkered down in the car and waited for help, which came in the form of Troy Barnett, owner of the K Bar Z Guest Ranch, who decided to check out things on snowmobile.
From the Park County sheriff’s office:
(RELEASE FROM PARK COUNTY, WY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT)–
A missing Wisconsin couple that was last seen leaving the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 29 has been found alive and well. Mark and Kristine Wathke from Cornell, Wisconsin were found this morning in their vehicle by a local rancher on the Beartooth Highway (US 212) near Long Lake. The car had become stuck in heavy snow.
After hearing reports of the missing couple, Troy Barnett, owner of the K Bar Z Guest Ranch took it upon himself to search for the missing couple on snowmobile. He located them at 8:30 a.m., cold and hungry but otherwise unharmed. Barnett said that the couple had plenty of fuel in their car and was therefore able to start the engine periodically to keep warm. They also had plenty of water and a limited amount of food.
The missing couple had hotel reservations in Miles City, Montana for Tuesday night, but was listed by the hotel as a “no show.” Last contact with the couple was from within the park on the 29th when they contacted their family to let them know they would be home on October 30th. There had been no further cell phone activity and the couple had not been heard from or seen since.
The Beartooth Highway which usually closes for the season in mid-October has been closed this year since mid-September due to weather-related hazardous driving conditions. The highway is posted as being closed.
Sheriff Scott Steward praised Mr. Barnett for his self-less concern for the couple. “Residents in this area often volunteer their time and resources to assist in rescue operations, said Sheriff Steward. “Mr. Barnett’s actions in this instance possibly saved this couple from serious harm. I commend him for his unselfishness.”
The lesson: bad weather can strike any time in the greater Yellowstone area, especially in the higher climes. We’ve been in Cooke City when blizzards closed the Beartooth Highway as early as Labor Day.
Image of the Beartooth Highway in winter via Flickr.com.