Careful: High country still cold, treacherous
After responding in recent days to several cases of people stranded on high-elevation roads, the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office is warning people itching to get outdoors that the cold weather hasn’t finished with the high country.
Thursday morning Garfield County Search and Rescue responded after a woman hiked away from her vehicle, which was stuck in a snowdrift on Country Road 245 north of New Castle.
Many high-altitude locations still have deep snowdrifts and muddy backcountry roads where drivers run the risk of getting stuck for the night, said Walt Stowe, the sheriff’s public information officer.
In the last week the sheriff’s office has responded to four incidents of people stranded on four-wheel drive roads in cold temperatures around the Flat Tops Wilderness and other high-elevation areas.
Stowe said many of these cases have come from people trying to get to Meadow Lake on Country Road 245.
Luckily, none of these incidents have resulted in injuries. But the incidents are taxing the sheriff’s office’s limited supply of on-duty deputies, said Stowe.
“We all enjoy the Flat Tops, the Roan Plateau and many of the other wilderness type areas available to Garfield County and the adjoining counties,” Stowe said in an email. “It is however important to understand that seasons in the high country lag behind what we are experiencing on the valley floors and in fact, nighttime conditions are considerably colder and more treacherous in the high country year round.
“Remember, the roads can be muddy in the daytime and icy at night regardless of the season,” he noted.
“Even the most experienced backcountry explorers have found themselves stuck in the high country as night approaches, either due to the road conditions or mechanical issues.”
So far this season, Pitkin County hasn’t seen these kinds of issues, but people underestimating high elevation weather is pretty common this time of year, said Jeffrey Edelson, Mountain Rescue Aspen president.
The weather might be 80 degrees and sunny at the trailhead, but hikers can see the temperature drop dramatically and even snow at higher elevations, he said.
People venturing into the backcountry must keep an eye on the weather and be prepared for unexpected conditions, said Edelson.
The sheriff’s office recommends being prepared to spend the night in case of an emergency any time you venture far into the backcountry.
Let someone know where you’re going, and bring the necessary supplies.
“Remember, while your vehicle may provide some shelter from the wind, snow or rain, you can’t count on it as a source of heat. Fuel constraints or mechanical issues may prevent you from using the car’s heating system,” Stowe said.
Bring supplies in case you’re stuck in one spot for a while: water, food that doesn’t require cooking, blankets, warms clothes and some survival items like a flashlight, camping knife and a way to start a fire.
“Consider a slow burning candle,” says Stowe. “Inside your car the heat from a candle, along with your natural body heat, can often provide enough warmth to make it through the night in relative comfort.”
“Don’t venture away from your vehicle at night in search of help and make sure someone back home knows approximately where you are planning to go and when they might expect your return,” Stowe said. “If you don’t return that day search parties will be activated to find you, it is much easier to find a vehicle than a lone hiker.”
In a couple of weeks these snowdrifts will probably clear up, said Stowe. So your best bet might just be to wait out the weather.
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