Floridians stranded for three days on Imogene Pass | PostIndependent.com

Floridians stranded for three days on Imogene Pass

Heather McGregor
GSPI Managing Editor

In late August, part-time Glenwood Springs residents Don and Nan Seaton took a fun trip in their Land Rover over Ophir and Imogene passes in the San Juan Mountains.

So when their son and Danish daughter-in-law, Daryl and Jane Seaton, came for a visit from Florida last week, Don and Nan encouraged them to take the same excursion.

Caught by a massive cold front and snowstorm that pummeled all of western Colorado, Daryl and Jane spent three days and two nights trapped just below the 13,120-foot summit of Imogene Pass between Telluride and Ouray.

A rescue helicopter pulled them from the mountain midday Thursday and flew them down to Telluride, where Don and Nan were waiting.

“It’s kind of amazing what you can accomplish when you have to,” Daryl Seaton said Saturday, speaking by cell phone while waiting at Denver International Airport to catch a flight back to Florida. “You just look back and go, `Wow.'”

For his mom, the waiting without knowing was the hardest part.

“You want to help, but you can’t,” said Nan Seaton, who had high praise for the search and rescue crews and sheriff’s offices in Telluride and Ouray.

Don and Nan are former owners of the Caravan Inn in Glenwood Springs. They now own the four Sea Wake Resorts on the Gulf coast of Florida and divide their time between Glenwood Springs and Florida. Daryl and Jane, married 23 years, live at Oldsmar, Fla., and manage one of the resorts.

Nan said Daryl and Jane (pronounced ya-NAY) drove to Ouray and then over Ophir Pass to Telluride on Monday, Sept. 8. They called from Telluride Tuesday morning, and said they’d call again when they got down to Ouray that afternoon.

“Then we never heard from them,” Nan said. “So about 7 p.m., we called the sheriff’s offices in Ouray and Telluride.”

A search and rescue crew set out from Ouray that evening, but couldn’t even get halfway up the pass because of blowing and drifting snow. Searchers tried again on Wednesday, coming from both side of the pass. They got very close but couldn’t find the car in the raging blizzard.

Meanwhile, Daryl, 43, and Jane, 42, huddled in the Land Rover, a soft-topped 1994 Defender 90 model. Luckily, Nan had stocked the car with blankets, boots, down jackets and hot packs, and Daryl and Jane were wearing wool clothing.

While they were driving up the pass on Tuesday, it started to sprinkle snow. They drove over the summit and got about four minutes down the east side before getting blasted by the storm.

“It was a total white-out, winds blowing 50 to 60 mph,” Daryl said. “I got out and tried to guide the car down the road, when it slid down the hill. That was it. We were done. We were going to wait for them to come get us.”

The couple stuffed underwear and paper towels into the cracks of the soft top and settled in for the night, thinking they would be rescued the next day.

“I can’t explain how bad it was,” Daryl said. “It sounded like a freight train. It would go dead calm for about 30 seconds, then you could hear it coming like a train and it would hit us.”

High winds rocked the car, and they worried that it would be blown off the road. In fact, blowing snow packed in around the Land Rover, but it shook with every gust, he said.

Don and Nan headed over to Ouray Wednesday morning, and hung out at the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office while search and rescue crews made their second attempt at finding the stranded couple.

“I cannot tell you how good they were,” Nan said. “They kept us informed. They said, `Good or bad, we’re going to tell you everything.'”

On the mountain, Daryl and Jane realized their rescue would take longer.

“It never cleared up. It was a grueling day, mentally. The gusts of wind never stopped, and we knew they weren’t coming,” he said.

From the sheriff’s office, Don and Nan could hear about the rough weather conditions searchers were dealing with: high winds, deep snow and visibility of no more than 10 feet. The searchers gave up, and planned to try again Thursday.

On Thursday morning, with the temperature in the Land Rover hovering at 18 degrees, Daryl saw an opening in the storm. But his cell phone battery was dead.

He first tried to charge it up from the car battery, using turn signal wires from the dashboard. Then he took a close look at the battery, and saw that it was a 3.7-volt type. The car’s 12-volt battery wouldn’t work.

“Then I saw my camera. I had just bought a new battery, and it was a 3-volt.”

Using Band-Aids from his parents’ survival kit, he taped the signal wires onto the two batteries, and the cell phone immediately began to charge up.

“We were pretty excited,” Daryl said.

He waited a half hour for it to charge, put on boots and hiked back up to the summit in hopes of getting a signal.

From the car, Jane heard Daryl say, “Dad! Dad!”

At the Ouray sheriff’s office, Nan heard her husband’s cell phone ring. It was Daryl.

Two days of tension and worry dissolved into whoops and tears.

From Telluride, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office sent a rescue helicopter up to Imogene Pass, while Don and Nan drove around from Ouray.

Because Seaton had a fishing license, there will be no bill for his rescue, said Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the San Miguel County sheriff’s office.

Daryl and Jane were taken to the Telluride Medical Center, where Daryl was treated for frostbite and his Jane was treated for exhaustion.

Then the family drove back to Glenwood Springs, where Daryl and Jane recuperated Friday before leaving for Denver Saturday morning. On their way to the airport, they drove through another snowstorm.

Their three children, ages 21, 18 and 17, planned to meet the flight in Florida.

“Our teenagers have grounded us,” Daryl said, “at least until next weekend.”

The Land Rover is still parked in the snow on Imogene Pass, but the staff at the Glenwood Springs Land Rover Centre is itching for a chance to go retrieve it.

Daryl said San Miguel sheriff’s deputies told him that if the vehicle stays on the pass until next summer, marmots will eat all the soft materials – the soft top, the seats, steering wheel and wires in the engine.

Don Seaton is also looking into the possibility of hiring a construction helicopter to lift the 4,800-pound vehicle off the mountain, his son said.

Don is coordinating a plan with the Ouray County Sheriff, Nan said. They think there’s a good chance the weather will lift, and the snow will melt enough to drive the vehicle off the mountain, she said.

“We’ve got to have a break in the weather. But if it’s accessible, we’ll go get it,” said Randy Tuggle, manager of the dealership.

“That vehicle can be driven down on its own. It’s a matter of getting the right equipment up there to make a path, things like snow ladders and tire chains,” he said.

“It’s up to Don and the sheriff’s department,” Tuggle said. “We don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s safety, but the majority of my staff are trained in extreme off-roading and recovery. That’s something the manufacturer does for us. As for volunteers, we are more than willing to attack the task.”

Contact Heather McGregor: 945-8515, ext. 517


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