Early last week, Kimberly Pinkham and her fiancé, James Robinson, parked their blue minivan near the Pigeon Creek Campground, located about 20 miles south of Butte. The couple was moving south in a few weeks and planned to live out of their van in the meantime, as it was cheaper and more convenient for them and their 10-month-old puppy. They parked on a flat area beside the water, excited to spend a few days in the Highlands.
The next morning, they woke up to a foot of snow.
“When I woke up to see the snow, fear set in,” Pinkham said. “I told James, ‘We are screwed.’”
Pinkham and Robinson couldn’t get the van out from their parking spot. For about four days, they were stuck at the campground. They had a six-pack of Ramen noodles, some cream of celery soup, and snow melt for water, Pinkham said.
At first, they stayed in their van, building fires and using body heat to stay warm. Then it got colder, Pinkham said, so the trio moved into the campground’s cement outhouse, where they built a fire for warmth.
On Friday morning, Pinkham said their puppy, Bandit, started acting weird. When she opened the door to see if there was something outside, Pinkham and Robinson saw a rancher on his horse. The rancher was apparently rounding up some of his cattle that had wandered near the campground and saw smoke coming from the outhouse.
“When we saw the rancher, we were a little shook up because we hadn’t known how long we’d be there,” Pinkham said.
After the rancher talked with Pinkham and Robinson, he rode into an area with cell service and called local authorities. Around 2 p.m., Shane Martin, the assistant fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Butte Ranger District, received a call from Butte-Silver Bow dispatch about the couple.
“We’ve had some situations where people have been stuck, but I have been out here for five years and this is the first time we’ve had someone out for that long,” Martin said.
Martin and two others drove up to the campground to help them, but couldn’t get their van out logistically with the equipment they had, and due to Forest Service policy.
Pinkham is a Butte native, but hasn't lived there in a few years. Still, she thought she may be able to find help from old friends. So, Martin offered to give the couple a ride into Butte, which is also against agency policy.
“We really aren’t supposed to give people rides in our government vehicles, but they were in a pretty desperate place. It was the right thing to do,” Martin said.
Martin dropped the trio off at Walmart, where they thought they’d have the best luck finding help. There, Pinkham said she discovered there was no rescue mission or place the three could go until their van was recovered. She called the county dispatch center to see what help was available.
“The dispatch lady called the manager at Walmart to explain our situation. They gave us a tent, food, warm clothes, and said we could camp in the grassy area behind the store,” Pinkham said. “I was so grateful I was almost in tears.”
While Pinkham was on the phone with dispatch, D.J. Clark, a former house manager at the Butte Rescue Mission, was petting Bandit. He overheard Pinkham’s conversation and learned more about the situation from Robinson.
“I’m not in any sort of financial situation to help everyone, but I realized these guys were stranded,” Clark said. “I can’t turn a blind eye when someone is in need.”
On Saturday morning, Clark invited the three over to his house to shower and get warm. He posted on the Butte 411 Facebook page, vaguely describing the situation and asking if anyone could help or donate items for Pinkham and Robinson. Within the first couple of hours, several people showed up to Clark’s house with all of the clothing and food items the trio needed.
Throughout that day, Clark said he received over 100 Facebook messages from Butte citizens looking to lend a hand. On Saturday, one woman paid for a hotel room at the Super 8. On Sunday morning, two men drove up with Pinkham and Robinson to dig their van out. A different woman paid for a hotel room on Sunday night.
“There were no questions asked and no hesitation on anyone’s part. I was astounded,” Clark said. “This situation will come again, so it’s good to know there are so many people willing to donate and help.”
Pinkham said they will move back into the van now that it’s been recovered, and are hoping to make the trip down South in the next few weeks. She said she and Robinson have been overwhelmed with the support received from the Butte community.
“We were just two dirty, smelly people sitting on the sidewalk at Walmart. None of these people knew us,” Pinkham said, tearing up. “It was heartwarming to see all of the people that cared about us.”