The sun was shining and the skies were blue Monday as Pat Delaney and his dog, Rooney, set out from Loveland Pass Lake on a routine hike.
Delaney, who works as a page designer for his family’s publishing business in Fla., moved to Summit Cove in April from his hometown outside of Orlando. Since that time, he and Rooney have taken regular trips to the top of Loveland Pass to explore the trails on the Continental Divide.
At 8 a.m. Saturday, Delaney and Rooney departed Summit Cove just as they had on several previous occasions. There was nothing different about the routine, Delaney said Monday, aside from the promise of a fresh layer of snow on the ground. Delaney had no idea that in just 15 short minutes a total stranger would come to consider him a hero.
As Delaney rounded the last switchback before the west summit of Loveland Pass he was struck by an unexpected sight. Sitting on the guardrail in the opposite lane was a woman covered in snow with nothing more than a bathrobe to shield her from the elements.
“Initially I thought she was a hitchhiker because I know a lot of snowboarders and skiers hitch rides from people when they’re skiing the pass,” Delaney said. “I kind of chuckled at first because there wasn’t nearly enough snow to go riding, then it dawned on me that she was in trouble.”
Delaney stopped to pick up the woman who was visibly shaking from the cold. He came to discover that the woman was traveling from Iowa to California to visit family. She was traveling through the mountains during Friday night’s snowstorm and was diverted away from Eisenhower Tunnel to Loveland Pass because of the weather.
After successfully reaching the summit the woman lost control of her sport utility vehicle as she entered the first turn of the descent, Delaney said. She slid off the highway through a gap between the mountain and a guardrail, coming to rest about 20 yards below the roadway. The only thing that kept her from rolling all the way to the bottom were a collection of trees and bushes, Delaney said.
The woman ended up spending the night in her car.
“Her headlights were buried in the ground and she said she crashed sometime between 8 and 10 p.m.,” Delaney said. “There’s no way she could have known exactly where she was.”
To make matters worse, temperatures at the top of Loveland Pass Friday night bottomed out at 14 degrees, the coldest night of the fall thus far, according to National Weather Service data. For fear of dislodging her vehicle from its treacherous perch, the woman decided to move as little as possible, Delaney speculated.
She made no attempts to crawl to her luggage in the trunk of her SUV, settling instead for the only thing within arms reach to keep her warm through the night — her bathrobe.
“I don’t know if she was covered in snow because she was sitting on the side of the road for so long or from her climb back up to the highway, but it was clear she had been out here for awhile,” Delaney said. “I kept asking her questions to keep her talking and she seemed coherent, but I knew if she had spent the night in her car she was going to need help fast.”
Luckily Delaney and his brother, Steve, were partying with ski patrollers from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area the night before. They were scheduled to be at the mountain that morning for a preseason training session with local doctors, nurses and emergency medical technicians.
Delaney earned his EMT certification 17 years ago in Florida, but decided to forego an examination considering their close proximity to A-Basin.
“I just told her she was in good hands, but that she was going to be in much better hands in about two minutes,” Delaney said. “When I got there, they jumped in and took over. I’m fortunate the training was happening at A-Basin, otherwise it would have been a long ride to the hospital.”
Delaney didn’t learn much about the woman’s condition, but thinks he overheard one of the doctors at A-Basin say her body temperature had dropped to somewhere in the low to mid 90-degree range. She was rushed to Summit Medical Center in Frisco before being transferred to an undisclosed hospital in Denver.
Although Delaney was told by Summit Medical Center doctors that the woman was stable when transferred to Denver, he has not been able to confirm her current condition.
Regardless, Steve Delaney, who also is a certified EMT, praised his brother for making a lot of smart decisions.
“I spoke to some of the guys at A-Basin and they said had they gotten to her any later she may not have made it,” Steve Delaney said. “I’m proud of my brother for saving this woman’s life. It’s definitely a different kind of welcome to Summit County.”