The search for a Troy man reported missing by his wife Christmas night ended Wednesday when he called to let the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office know he was alright after spending a night in his truck with his dog.
Chase Ripley had headed up Teepee Mountain Road off of Yaak River Road to cut firewood early Christmas afternoon, he said. His wife, Jessica, was in Pennsylvania visiting family.
“She knew that I was going to work the next day. She knew that I wouldn’t go to bed without calling them,” Chase Ripley said.
When night fell and she had yet to hear from her husband, Jessica Ripley contacted the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Dispatch and posted to groups on Facebook.
“She said she knew right away that something was off,” Chase Ripley said.
After getting stuck in deep snow, Ripley had stayed in his truck with his dog for the night.
He estimated he was at least four miles up Teepee Road, and it was another six miles from the intersection with Yaak River Road to his home.
At first, Ripley said he believed he could make it, but started having doubts after passing the fork in Teepee Mountain Road.
“I should have just trusted my gut, turned it around when I thought I should have turned it around,” he said.
After a bit, he saw a turnaround, and slowed to pull in. But, when he stopped the truck and lost momentum, he couldn’t get traction back.
Since he had been heading out to cut wood, Ripley had a chainsaw and axe. Over the course of about 45 minutes, he was able to cut up branches and limbs to get traction under the tires, but he was unable to get the truck turned around.
It was only around 2 p.m., and Ripley said he felt he had time, so he drove the one direction the truck would go: forward.
“I don’t think I went incredibly far, maybe a half mile longer, and there was a tree across the road,” he said.
There was space, so he tried to get the truck turned around again.
“Every time I’d do something for a correction, it slid closer and closer to the ditch,” he said.
In the end, Ripley was stuck in the ditch with his front driver’s side tire off the ground.
It was 3:30 p.m. by then, and he realized there was little chance of even making it back to Yaak River Road on foot before sundown.
Though Ripley had his dog and was armed, he said that a mountain lion sighting on his way up added to his hesitation to attempt walking back at that point.
He also considered what would happen to him if he slipped and became injured on his way back down in the lessening sunlight, and how unlikely it was anyone would be coming that way anytime soon, he said.
With water and his dog to help keep him warm and keep him company, Ripley decided then to wait out the night in his truck.
The next morning, Ripley hiked out, catching a ride on Yaak River Road from a passerby who saw him walking.
Ripley said he wanted to thank that man for stopping.
Lincoln County Undersheriff Brian Griffeth said that Ripley made the right choice to stay put rather than risk hiking out and possibly getting lost.
“Smart guy. He knew what to do,” Griffeth said.
Ripley said he could have been a little better prepared, as this wasn’t the first time he’d gotten caught in deep snow on an area road.
The two things he didn’t have that he would want in that situation the next time were a shovel and his tire chains.
“And I would have chained up before I went up there,” he said.
Noah Pyle with David Thompson Search and Rescue said that preparation into a situation that could end with someone stranded starts with a plan.
Whether heading into the woods to hike, hunt or gather wood, it’s important to make certain someone knows where the person is going and when they expect to be back.
Having a general location greatly reduces search time, he said. The person should also check back in with their contact when they get back.
Anyone heading out into winter weather should also have a 24-hour kit, Pyle said. That would include enough food and water for 24 hours, as well as something to keep warm, such as a sleeping bag — and enough supplies for everyone in the party.
He also recommended having the means to start a fire, including tools such as an axe or saw for gathering fuel.
A fire helps not only with warmth or even melting snow for additional water, but also helps searchers to find a missing person.
“Especially at night, for signaling, helicopters can pick a fire out a very, very long ways away,” Pyle said.
Pyle said that the best choice is to stay with any vehicle. Aside from shelter, a vehicle is much easier to spot than a person alone in the woods, and staying with the vehicle ensures the individual is near a road.
He recommended having something blaze orange to tie from the vehicle antenna. Not only will it make the vehicle stand out if it becomes covered in snow, but the blaze orange will alert anyone passing by to check the vehicle for a stranded motorist.
While Pyle discouraged leaving a vehicle, he said that if someone feels they have no other choice, they should leave a note at the vehicle with details such as their direction of travel and the time they left.
“And then stick to it,” he said.