SUMMIT COUNTY Despite efforts Wednesday from 35 rescuers on foot, two search dogs and a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter to find overdue hiker Richard Keuhn in the Gore Range, the Morrison man ended up walking out of the woods on his own, exhausted, but in good spirits and uninjured."I bushwhacked (out) and I knew they were looking for me, but I thought I had signaled them this morning so I didn't really worry about it. So I walked all the way to my car and I saw the yellow tape around it and I knew that was a bad sign," Keuhn said.The 49-year-old chiropractor became lost Monday morning after he left Mirror Lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness on his return from a solo Labor Day weekend backpacking trip.The route wasn't well-marked, Keuhn said, and he accidentally followed a trail that dead-ended. He then got disoriented while trying to backtrack.He spent the rest of Monday trying to find his way back to the trail, all the while telling himself to "keep going ... keep going." Unsuccessful, he spent Monday night on a ridge, and set out again on Tuesday."By the end of Tuesday night, I had made it to Cataract Creek and the falls there, and it was getting late and I was very tired and I wasn't sure if I could get down before dark ... I'd been in some very rugged, steep terrain and had to climb back out of it and didn't want to have to go back anymore," he said.Keuhn said he knew where he was by then, but friends had already alerted local police that Keuhn didn't show up for work Tuesday morning.His chiropractor's assistant, Adrienne Hernandez, knew something was wrong on Tuesday because Keuhn missed several appointments.
"Dr. Keuhn is very on time. He cares a lot about his patients and he's not one to not show up for something," Hernandez said.She reached Keuhn's mother in Kansas who said he had mentioned going to Eagles Nest. Hernandez tracked down a number for a ranger service, which put her in touch with local police.Another point of concern was that Keuhn had plans to meet a friend, Veronique Corbett, on the trail at the intersection with Elliott Ridge on Saturday evening and didn't show."I literally thought I was the one that was lost, I never even considered anything (was wrong) with him," Corbett said. Keuhn later said he got a late start and couldn't make it to the rendezvous point on time.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Summit Rescue Group sent a few teams into the field, one of which stayed the night in hopes of seeing Keuhn wander back onto the trail, according to Summit County Undersheriff Derek Woodman.With no sign of Keuhn by Wednesday morning, the Sheriff's Office ramped up its effort, calling in searchers from rescue teams all over the state and requesting a Blackhawk helicopter from Buckley Air Force Base to shuttle searchers up the difficult six-mile-plus trail to Upper Cataract Lake.
Keuhn heard the buzz of the helicopter Wednesday morning and built a signal fire to draw its attention. When the helicopter was about 100 or 200 yards away, he stood on a ridge, waved his arms and gave the thumbs-up to let the pilot know he was OK, but the crew inside the bird didn't see him in the vast wilderness.After another day of bushwhacking, Keuhn found his way back to his car at the Lower Cataract Lake trailhead at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. Shortly after, he was welcomed at the Heeney Fire Station with hugs of relief by a small group of friends that had traveled from the Front Range to be there for Wednesday's search.Keuhn said even though he stayed two unplanned nights in the backcountry, he had packed enough rations to prepare himself."If you go backpacking you take what you need. So you pump water, so if you stay close to a water source then that's number one, stay close to water, you can always survive on water," he said.
Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.