Camera lost in wilderness finds its way home

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This is a story about how a camera that was lost six years ago on a rocky slope in the Great Bear Wilderness found its way home to Wisconsin under the most unusual circumstances.

Dave Pauly of New Berlin, Wisconsin, shared the tale with the Inter Lake, and it’s one of those crazy sets of circumstances that leaves one shaking their head and saying, “That’s really something.”

Dave and his wife Renee Couture stopped in mid-July to hike the Dickey Lake trail in the Great Bear Wilderness as part of a six-week vacation. The hike started well enough, but trail conditions quickly soured, Dave wrote. “The trail was extremely overgrown, with neck-high vegetation.

“The broken alder branches were not kind to bare shins or the upper body,” he noted. As they pushed on through adverse conditions, Dave looked down and saw a camera wedged under a small log. It had been someone’s really nice camera at one time, but now “the viewfinder was hanging by two wires, the lens was loose and what remained of the strap indicated that it must have been a catastrophic event that caused the camera to find its final resting place,” he speculated.

They found a digital photo card inside the tattered camera and doubted it would be viable, given the device had buried deep in snow and perhaps had even survived avalanches.

When they got back to Summit Campground, Dave pulled the card out and put it in the glove box. Then the sleuthing began.

“How badly was the owner injured that they would leave a valuable camera behind?” the couple wondered.

They inquired at the Hungry Horse Ranger Station, asking if there had been a serious injury or life flight to Dickey Lake in recent years. Nothing came up.

When smoke from wildfires cut the Paulys’ vacation short, Dave took the photo card to Walgreen and discovered it contained 160 pictures and four videos, which were transferred to a CD.

As they pored over the photos, there were images of a man and woman, most likely the hikers who owned the camera. What had happened to them?

Dave intended to post the photos on Backpacker.com and see if anyone came forward. But then something clicked. There was a photo of the Ottawa Bible Church mailbox, complete with the street address, Dave said. His Google search turned up only two Ottawa Bible Churches, one in Ottawa, Kansas, and the other in Ontario, Canada. The address on the mailbox confirmed the Kansas church, so Dave contacted the church, including a photo of the couple that had been retrieved from the lost camera.

“Yes, we know these people,” the church wrote back. “He is our former pastor and they live in Wisconsin. We’ll get in touch with them.”

As it turned out, Pastor Nathan James and his wife Susan, who grew up in Great Falls, are regular visitors to the Great Bear Wilderness. They had encountered similar rugged terrain six years earlier when they’d hiked the Dickey Lake trail. Nathan had stumbled and dropped the camera.

“They spent a long time looking for it until they gave up,” Dave said. “Both of them had been hurt on the hike, Nathan fairly bad, and it was simply time to get back,” so they left the camera behind. It had been a birthday gift from Nathan to his wife.

Nathan had taken a picture of the church mailbox because he had built it. As it turns out, it wasn’t a long trip for Nathan to meet Dave in Racine — just 34 miles.

“Who says technology doesn’t work?” Dave quipped.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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