May 26 • 04:09 PM

Hiker rescued,family relieved

Student with area ties hit by lightning in Grand Teton

Purdue professor Jim Walker (a former Almont grad) and his son Matt enjoy the great outdoors. Matt was among a group of students struck by lightning last Wednesday while hiking on Grand Teton. Matt’s mom is former Almont resident Caren Bristol Walker.

July 28, 2010
ALMONT — Carolyn Bristol's tv screen was lit with the image of a yellow rescue helicopter surrounded by emergency personnel that had just rescued a group of young climbers from Wyoming's Grand Teton mountain.

The story was a shocker—16 climbers last Wednesday had to be plucked from the heights after a severe thunder and lightning storm moved through the area. There were 17 in the original group—one hiker was missing.

Carolyn's shock grew as she noticed the injured young man in blue pants and an orange hiking helmet being carried by rescue workers looked all too familiar. She was looking at her grandson—Matt Walker—his right shoe missing, foot swathed in bandages.

Matt, 22, was among several hikers that were struck by lightning as the storm tore across the mountain tops.

Carolyn knew Matt's parents—both Almont High School grads—may not know about the incident. They were on another outdoor adventure in Yellowstone National Park.

Fortunately, she got in touch with her daughter Caren and son-in-law Jim Walker, and as fortune would have it, Yellowstone is not that far from Jackson, Wyoming, where their son Matt was hospitalized.

"He has five electrical burns and his right foot is injured," says Chuck Bristol, Matt's uncle. "He'll probably need some skin grafts, but he seems to be doing good."

Matt, the Walker's youngest son, is a student at Purdue University, where his dad Jim is a professor.

He and a group of friends decided they'd like to make the climb, and were among three separate groups of climbers to be rescued from the mountains on July 21. The missing hiker—21-year-old Brandon Oldenkamp of Sanborn, Iowa, was not as fortunate. Published reports say Oldenkamp apparently went over a cliff after being struck by lightning during the storm. His body was recovered the following day.

Chuck says family members feel fortunate that Matt's going to be okay—and their hearts go out to the lost hiker's family.

"It's a shock and a sad story but we're glad that Matt's okay," he says.

Matt, who on Friday was expected to be released from the hospital in a day or two, is an experienced outdoorsman, Chuck says. The entire family enjoys camping, hiking, fishing and the like, he adds.

Jim and Caren met and married in Almont, and moved to Ann Arbor when Jim was hired on as a professor at the University of Michigan. They moved to Indiana when Jim took a job with Purdue. Caren is a high school teacher.

Matt's grandparents are Mr. and Mrs. William J. Bristol of Almont and Mr. and Mrs. James Walker of Imlay City.

Last Wednesday's odd storm on the 13,770 foot face of Grand Teton was foreshadowed by the accidental death of University of Michigan student Jillian Drow, 21, of Chelsea, Michigan.

The student apparently fell 80 feet after reaching the 12,804 foot summit of Middle Teton on Tuesday evening, July 20. According to news reports, Drow had separated from her climbing partner as they were descending, and when she didn't return to camp the group's leader initiated a search.

A little less than two hours later, the leader discovered Drow's body, which was "unresponsive and lifeless."

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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