BOZEMAN – Three people rafting on the Gallatin River Monday night quickly found themselves in a life-or-death situation. Gallatin County Search and Rescue saved them from a situation that nearly ended much worse.
“Severe hypothermia,” says Capt. Jason Jarrett, Gallatin Search and Rescue commander. “I don’t know how much longer she’d have lasted on that.”
On angry waters like the Gallatin River this time of year, everything can change in an instant. Jarrett says that’s exactly what happened Monday night.
“This particular call was of a small person yelling for help that was trapped on a cut bank on the Gallatin,” Jarrett says.
It was a woman, trapped, and freezing.
“She was stranded along the bank in really cold weather, had been there for a while,” Jarrett says.
She was alone. But the commander says she wasn’t when this all started.
“She and two others, which we didn’t find out until later, had dumped their two rafts and a kayak,” Jarrett says. “Trying to get information from somebody that is hypothermic is problematic.”
A search and rescue member found the two men upstream.
They, too, were stranded.
As for the woman — “She suffered an incredible bout of hypothermia,” Jarrett says. “She’d been there for a long time, had been wet, was in a spot where she couldn’t get off the bank. It was collapsing underneath her.”
Commander Jarrett adds that this stretch of river between Gallatin Gateway and Norris Road, even on its good days, is not friendly.
“It looks like the river,” Jarrett says. “It looks like all of the other rivers but it’s not. That’s a really dangerous stretch.”
Take a smaller, branch-off creek off of the Gallatin River, for example.
If you look at the current, it’s still just as strong.
With that current coming from the Gallatin River, it is easy to see how the larger body of water is much more dangerous.
“Big cottonwood trees, big rocks,” Jarrett says. “It’s a really hazardous place.”
With waters like these, Jarrett says the three are extremely lucky.
“Water deserves respect, regardless of where you are,” Jarrett says.
Importantly, Commander Jarrett says the trio is recovering. None of them were wearing life jackets.
Additionally, Jarrett says this is a reminder of other hazards, some including those that could harm search and rescue crews.
“If you do lose your boat, please contact the sheriff’s office non-emergency number, 582-2100, and let us know where you lost your boat, what color it is so we don’t put a ton of resources out and put the rescuers in precarious circumstances, trying to make sure there’s not somebody trapped in that boat,” Jarrett says.
The commander adds hypothermia is a very real issue that can impact anybody, including experienced adventurers.
“Not only does it drop your core temperature, but when your core temperature drops, so does your brain function and so you start losing motor coordination,” Jarrett says. “You start losing the ability to rationalize and think through problems. Your body starts to shut down.”
Above all, he says being prepared is key.
“This time of year is not for the Walmart raft and the kids and a case of beer,” Jarrett says. “This is the time of year for the pro kayakers, and they are not even doing that stretch of river.”
Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News