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Snowmobilers rescued after two nights out

Jeremy Heiman
Special to the Post Independent

Garfield County Search and Rescue volunteers on Tuesday rescued five snowmobilers stranded for two nights in a remote area on the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs.

The snowmobilers got stuck near Palmer Lake, south of Grizzly Cow Camp.

The five were part of a party of seven Michigan snowmobilers who became trapped when their machines were not able to climb out of a basin they had ridden into. All of the snowmobilers were reported to be in good health at the time of the rescue.



The group was rescued after two of the snowmobilers walked out of the area and were picked up by other snowmobilers, who drove them to the trailhead on the Coffee Pot Road, where they were able to telephone for help.

Jim Sears, emergency operations commander of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department, said the snowmobilers got into the basin by riding down a steep, narrow gully, but it was too steep for them to go back up. And the rest of the basin was too heavily forested for them to maintain the speeds needed to climb the slopes in the soft snow, Sears said.



The riders searched for a way out for several hours. They eventually became resigned to the idea that they were trapped when their machines began to run out of fuel, Sears said.

Poor overnight accommodations

The group spent Sunday night in the open, warmed by a bonfire and a makeshift windbreak of branches and deadfall.

“I’m sure they weren’t real comfortable,” Sears said. The group was at the bottom of the basin, where they were exposed to the wind, he said.

The party had some sandwiches and snack food, Sears said, which they rationed among themselves, not knowing how long they would be stuck. They had no blankets or sleeping bags.

Early Monday morning two of the party started walking. Sears said they were able to walk on top of the snow until about 10 a.m., when the warmth of the sun softened the snow.

“From 10 to 2 they postholed,” Sears said. Without snowshoes, they sank past their knees with each step.

The exhausted men reached the Coffee Pot Road at about 2 p.m., and were soon picked up by other snowmobilers, who drove them toward the trailhead. At this point in the spring season, recreationists are parking at about the six-mile mark on the Coffee Pot Road, Sears said, about four miles down from where the road levels out at the top of the plateau.

During the trip out, the two tried to call for help on a cellular telephone, and succeeded in reaching Garfield County Dispatch. The cellular signal was weak, and the call was broken off, but dispatchers began to mobilize a rescue.

By 2:30 p.m. the snowmobilers reached their trucks at the trailhead, Sears said. From that point, they were able to make a solid telephone connection.

“We got more information, and started to make a plan,” Sears said.

Helicopter delivers supplies

Because it was too late in the day to go in with snowmobiles, search and rescue volunteers decided to use a helicopter to ferry supplies to the stranded party. At about 5 p.m., pilot Doug Sheffer of DBS Helicopters flew two Garfield County Search and Rescue volunteers to the site where the five were stranded. They landed the helicopter and talked with the party, determining that no one was in need of medical care. They left sleeping bags, tarps and food.

A party of 16 search and rescue members drove to the trailhead Tuesday morning. Some of the rescuers remained at the trailhead, while others, joined by the two Michigan men, snowmobiled to the site where the rest of the party remained stranded, leaving the trailhead at about 7:45 a.m.

The rescue party, carrying extra gasoline for the stranded machines and food that could be heated, drove into the basin. Refueled, the Michigan riders were able to ride their snowmobiles out of the basin.

“When our guys went in,” Sears said, “they packed a trail. The others were able to follow that trail out of there.”

They reached their vehicles none the worse for wear.

“One of the guys that walked out had a pretty good sunburn on him,” Sears said. “But nobody needed medical care.”

The Garfield County Sheriff’s office has not released the names or hometowns of the victims.

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534

jheiman@postindependent.com


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