From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 19 - 1/4/01
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Rock Springs Man and Boy Survive Two Harrowing Nights up Horse Creek
Both are found missing a boot and with frostbitten feet
by Rob Shaul

"I'll tell you what, I thought I was going to lose my foot," says William "Billy" Curtis, 37, of Rock Springs. "I just put it out of my mind and said, 'We're going to get out of here.' The will to survive is very powerful."

Last Wednesday, Mr. Curtis and his 13-year old cousin, Austin Eusek, set out on snowmobiles from the Horse Creek parking lot headed up Dry Beaver toward the Blind Bull Warming Hut.

On the way, the two stopped at Horse Mountain, where Austin "throttled the sled" off the edge of the mountain. Mr. Curtis said both of his machines were brand new, and he decided to take Austin on his sled, and go down to dig the snowmobile out.

In hindsight this decision was a mistake. "I screwed up. I should have never gone after that sled. It was brand new.... I really screwed up."

Mr. Curtis began digging out the sled and soon knew he was going to need help. Further, young Austin, who had to dive off the sled before it went over the edge, didn't want to get back on a snowmachine.

Mr. Curtis began planning to spend Wednesday night at the bottom of the mountain. "I was too shook up to eat," he remembers. The two men ate leftover turkey and he cooked jalapeno poppers on his snowmobile engine, started a fire, and dug a snow cave to spend the night in.

"We were so cold that first night, I'll tell you, we were stepping in the fire," says Mr. Curtis. As a result, both he and Austin burned the rubber soles off their snow boots.

The next morning, Mr. Curtis could see the search plane flying overhead, but knew that the rescuers would never find them down in the hole they were in. "When those planes kept going over and they couldn't see us, I got pretty burned out."

Billy decided to abandon the snowmobiles, and begin to climb over the top of Lookout Mountain, to get as high as they could, where the search parties would see them.

Soon, however, the walk became a crawl, as the deep snow slowed their progress. Mr. Curtis thinks they crawled for "miles" through the deep snow. Along the way, both he and Austin each lost one of their sole-less snow boots which were "flopping around."

Around midnight on Thursday night, Mr. Curtis found a fallen log that he and Austin crawled under to shiver through the night. They didn't start a fire.

After a short time, Mr. Curtis woke to discover that Austin had taken his coat off. "I can't find my coat," the boy told his cousin. Mr. Curtis dug further underneath the log and found the boy's coat, "frozen solid." He got it back on Austin, and zipped the boy's head inside the coat so his breath would warm it.

Mr. Curtis was scared. "I really thought we were going to be gone the next morning," he says. "I really did."

But they were both alive Friday morning. Mr. Curtis found a dead tree that he lit on fire that was soon seen by the rescuers. The fire was spotted about 8:40 a.m. by a search helicopter.

Mr. Curtis and Austin were found in the Mill Creek drainage, about three miles northwest of the Horse Creek parking lot. The helicopter landed and transported them to the parking lot where they were taken by ambulance to the Pinedale Medical Clinic.

"We were pretty amazed that they went two days like that and they weren't in worse shape than they were," says Sheriff Hank Ruland, who was at the parking lot when the helicopter landed with Mr. Curtis and Austin aboard. Both were missing a snow boot. When Undersheriff Henry Schmidt touched Austin's sock, it was frozen solid.

Both Mr. Curtis and Austin suffered frostbitten feet. They were treated at the Pinedale Clinic but then, remarkably, were released to family members.

On Saturday, Mr. Curtis went to the emergency room at the Rock Springs hospital. He had blood in his urine and was suffering some muscle breakdown. He was treated and released, and spoke from his home in Rock Springs during our interview early Tuesday morning.

Mr. Curtis said that he and Austin had been suffering from swollen, frostbitten feet, but that it was too early to know if either of the men would lose any of their toes. <

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