Last Wednesday morning a group of hunters camped at Valley Garden Fishing Access site got an early morning surprise.
Water crept into their tent and before they could get camp moved, they were stuck as the Madison River clogged with ice and over flowed its banks.
Locals know how fast the river will gorge when temperatures plummet below zero, but these hunters were from Bend, Ore. and despite being warned several times, weren’t prepared, said Chris Mumme, director of Madison County Emergency Management.
The hunters called 911 at about 7:10 a.m. Wednesday morning and responders were on the scene by 7:35, Mumme said.
The hunters had a large pickup truck and cargo trailer, as well as a wall tent and a bunch of gear, most of which was retrieved.
They may have been able to drive out of the situation, but the cold weather, which was well below zero, kept their truck from starting, Mumme said.
According to one National Weather Service site, the minimum temperature recorded that day was 9 below zero.
None of the hunters had any injuries, though they were checked for hypothermia at the Madison Valley Medical Center, he said.
Responders were all amazed at how fast the water was rising even while the rescue was in process, Mumme said.
“You could actually hear the ice cracking all around you and the water started coming up even faster,” he said. “It doesn’t take long for that water to come up when it gorges like that.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which manages the access site, had planned to close it on Monday, said John Taillie, maintenance supervisor with FWP in Bozeman.
However, they allowed the hunters to stay with strict warnings to move if the ice started forming, Taillie said.
“We talked to them and said we need to close the site and you guys should probably get out of here,” he said. “So it wasn’t officially closed, but we did warn them, ‘You have to be aware this site could ice gorge quickly.’”
The agency typically closes the Ennis and Valley Garden Fishing Access sites in advance of any forecasted sub-zero weather, Taillie said. Every year both access sites are inundated by both ice and water.
“I think in the future we’re just going to tell people they have to leave that day when we come out and close it,” he said. “You just never know what that river’s going to do.”