Summit rescuers save three hikers in three days | PostIndependent.com

Summit rescuers save three hikers in three days

Eli Pace
Summit Daily News
A Summit County Rescue Group team sets up hand lines for the evacuation of two stranded hikers Friday on Quandary Peak.
Summit County Rescue Group

Summit County rescue crews with helicopters saved three stranded hikers in the last three days, including two hikers on Quandary Peak with an effort that took over 13 hours Friday into early Saturday morning and another Sunday when a man fell traversing the Tenmile Range.

The Summit County Rescue Group was notified of two hikers stuck on a Quandary Peak cliff at 13,800 feet at 2:18 p.m. Friday, according to the group.

A 26-year-old woman and 31-year-old man, both from Texas, were reportedly planning on hiking Quandary Peak’s most traveled route, the East Ridge Trail, on Friday when they ran into problems.

Unfamiliar with the area, the pair drove to the end of Blue Lakes Road where they got on the trail that leads to the much more technical West Ridge, not the East Ridge, according to the rescue group.

Quandary Peak was the third-most hiked 14er — mountains with peaks above 14,000 feet — in the state in 2017 with an estimated 21,000 hiker use days, according to the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and attracts many novices.

The two started their hike at about 7 a.m. and had a rough idea of how long the trip should take. They were underprepared for deteriorating weather conditions, however. As they ascended the ridgeline, dropping temperatures and snowfall led them to reassess their plans.

About 800 vertical feet shy of the 14,265-foot Quandary Peak summit, they decided to retreat down the mountain. During the descent, snowfall caused the hikers to drift off path, and they got stuck in a series of cliff bands.

The first technical response team, tasked with hiking up the West Ridge, was unable to quickly find the pair. With daylight fading and a potential for increasingly poor weather, a Flight for Life helicopter was requested for a reconnaissance flight. The helicopter found the hikers at 4:47 p.m.

As a precaution, Flight for Life took another rescue team of two climbers and associated climbing gear to the saddle on Quandary Peak’s East Ridge at about the 13,000-foot level.

The rescuers proceeded to the summit and then started down the West Ridge, intercepting the ascending West Ridge team at around 7 p.m. before finding the stranded hikers only five minutes later.

Rescuers worked their way down to the hikers and set hand lines for their climb back up and eventual hike out.

After contacting the party, the rescuers saw the two hikers were showing signs they were in the initial stages of hypothermia. At that point, the priority became warming the pair for the hike out before actually getting them off the cliff and back on the trail.

At this time, another snowstorm complicated matters as it moved through the area, along with thunder, lightning and wind, all heightening the challenges the rescuers faced, especially considering they were on an exposed ridgeline.

The stranded party was not back on the West Ridge Trail until 9:40 p.m., at which point the rescue teams and hikers started down the ridge. All were off the mountain by 2:15 a.m. Saturday morning.

“We often find that hikers from outside the Rocky Mountain area are surprised at how quickly the weather conditions can change,” said Charles Pitman, spokesman for the Summit County Rescue Group. “In this case, the weather was overcast and chilly in the morning, with occasional showers, but the significant deterioration to the snow storm was unpredicted. As a rescue team, we can’t overstate the necessity of being prepared for such conditions during summer hikes.”

In total, 18 members from the Summit County Rescue Group responded to the call.

A rescue on Tenmile

On Sunday, a 52-year-old man from out-of-state tumbled about 60 feet down the side of a mountain while hiking a ridgeline along the Tenmile Trail.

The Summit County Rescue Group sent out three teams, said Pitman, but because of the extent of the hiker’s injuries and where he fell — a ridgeline between Peaks 2 and 3 — the crews opted to request a Black Hawk helicopter from the high-altitude Army National Guard Aviation training site in Gypsum.

Black Hawk rescues are somewhat rare for Summit County, said Pitman. Luckily, one was available.

After picking up another rescue crew in Vail, Pitman said, the Black Hawk found the injured hiker, lowered a rescuer down to him on a cable and hoisted the man aboard.

The injured hiker was then flown to St. Anthony Medical Center. His injuries were serious but not believed to be life threatening. The Summit County rescue crews were expected to spend the evening hours Sunday hiking out.

The rescues come after a 67-year-old hiker died last week when he suffered a heart attack about a half-mile up Quandary Peak.

The Summit County Rescue Group reported the man, later identified as 67-year-old David Law of Casper, Wyoming, was with a group of friends intending to summit Quandary when he collapsed at the side of the trail.

At the same time the Summit County Rescue Group was responding to the injured hiker on the Tenmile Trail on Sunday, they took reports of a dirtbiker who’d wrecked and suffered facial injuries and what appeared to be another hiker signaling for help with a mirror on top of another mountain.

The dirtbiker was ushered out of the backcountry by a private vehicle, and the stranded hiker turned out to be nothing more than a metal sign blowing in the wind, Pitman said, adding that it’s been quite a busy summer for the group.

“That was three calls all at more or less the same time,” he said, “but we have to check it out because that’s what we do.”