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Bymaster recounts being stranded in mountain snowstorm following cellphone route

Ordeal included broken leg, being urinated on by mountain lion

 

August 23, 2019

Photo courtesy Carol Gabrielson

Bill Bymaster reads a card that says "Yay You" signed by his family members at a gathering held at the family cabin on the Rocky Mountain Front to celebrate surviving his winter ordeal.

A Havre High School graduate, Bill Bymaster, recently made headlines in Utah and was interviewed for television news, sharing his story of getting stranded last winter in Montana.

Deseret News in Salt Lake City published an article this month on his being stranded in a snowstorm in December.

Bymaster was on his way from Kalispell to Hayden, Idaho, Dec. 10, traveling for work doing structural evaluations on buildings. He had been working earlier in Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington.

He said that it was a cold day, but not snowing as he approached Happy's Roadhouse Inn south of Libby, then his phone told him to take a shortcut that would save him time.

"My phone told me to take a turn I shouldn't have taken. It was paved, and my phone said it would save me 45 minutes," Bymaster said. "I was interested in saving 45 minutes, so I guess with my better judgment I tried it."

He said he followed the road quite a way till the pavement ended and he saw a sign that read, "unpaved logging road" and snow began to fall.

He added that, by that time, he was 18 miles in from where he had turned and, due to the snow, the car was unable to turn around to go down the hill behind him or go up the hill in front of him. He said the car ended up getting stuck and he decided to get out and walk about a mile in the direction he was headed, thinking there might be a road ahead over the hill but the road had ended and he decided to head back to the car.

He said he remembered he had a sandwich he had saved from earlier as each time he flies to Spokane there is a barbecue place out by the airport where he always buys a sandwich.

On the first night of being stuck, he said he also had enough gas in the car to keep the car going during the night to keep warm. By the time the sun came out he figured he needed to head back to U.S. Highway 2.

"I thought my only chance was to walk out of there," he said.

He said he didn't have much supplies, just a change of clothes since he had been traveling. He used his dirty socks as gloves.

The snow had continued to fall overnight and ended up being knee-high deep and very cold.

He said he had walked about a mile or so when he came to a tree that had fallen across the road, possibly from the night before. He ended up getting his leg stuck, slipped on the ice and snow, and broke his leg

The bone had pierced the skin of his lower leg above the ankle.

"I think it being cold kind of helped with the pain because, even though I had my right leg pointing the right direction and my left pointing the wrong direction, I was able to walk four miles, though it took me all afternoon," he said.

By the time the sun was setting he said he couldn't stand up any more

and kept falling down.

"I looked back on my tracks and it looked like a war zone going back there going 10 feet, falling down and trying to get back up on a broken leg. It just wasn't going good at all and I was out of energy. And I figured that was the end of it, of how I was going to die," he said.

He added that he laid down, made peace with the world and made his wife, Uji, a video telling her he loves her very much.

After he laid there for a couple hours, he said his shakes stopped and he was able to fall asleep, but he doesn't have any recollection of the next 12 hours after that.

By 4:45 a.m., nearly 40 hours after he got stuck, he was able to open his eyes due to either a car's headlights or two guys shaking him who were tracking mountain lions for the next week's hunt. The two men had followed Bymaster's car tracks and a mountain lion's tracks - the mountain lion tracks led right to him. The men called an ambulance from Noxon which took him to Plains, where they were able to set his ankle, though they thought they might have to cut his leg off.

By the time the ambulance got to Plains he gained cellphone service and called his wife, telling her that he was still alive, going to be OK and was in an ambulance. Then he passed out again.

Uji Bymaster then drove from Salt Lake City to Missoula.

His niece Nikki Gabrielsen, a student at University of Montana in Missoula, and her boyfriend, were the first family members to arrive, driving to Plains and staying with him in the hospital there.

When Bymaster arrived at St. Patrick's Hospital in Missoula, he said, he was worried about his leg, but the hospital was worried that his kidneys and liver were shutting down.

The hospital did surgery on his leg, holding the bone together with with pins and rods.

In the ambulance on the way to Missoula, the emergency medical technician cut his clothes off due the the fact that he might have gotten frost bite and to treat any injuries he might have had. The EMT bagged those clothes and sent them to the hospital.

Three to four days later the bag was reopened and the clothes emitted a distinct smell of cat urine that Bymaster said the whole floor in the hospital could smell - apparently the mountain lion had been checking him out while he was passed out.

Months have gone by since his ordeal and he completed physical therapy on his leg in July, and he decided it was time to share his story, Bymaster said.

"I thought it was probably time to share the story with people and teach people not to take bad roads just 'cause their phones tell them to," he said.

The ordeal has also had a strong affect on him and his family, his sister Carol Bymaster Gabrielsen of Havre said.

"We have always been a really close family, but all of this somehow made us even closer.  I think we all have a renewed understanding of how precious life is and how quickly things can change," she said. "So many people have loved ones go missing and never know where they are are or what happened to them. This whole experience with Bill was and still is gut-wrenching, and we got a very happy ending."

 

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