Officials from the Summit County Rescue Group and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call involving two climbers stranded on Mount Royal Tuesday night, May 27, outside of Frisco.
The pair — described as men in their 20s visiting the area from out of state — were reported to be experienced climbers but unfamiliar with the area. They told rescuers they had climbed up a series of steep pitches on the front of the mountain shortly before sunset, using ropes and proper equipment. Rescuers said the pair then failed to take the correct hiking trail back down from the summit and found themselves on what they thought was an alternate route.
“The trail (at the summit) was covered by snow,” Summit County Rescue Group coordinator Ben Butler said Wednesday. He was one of four team members to reach the climbers.
“There were probably 5-foot drifts up there. Not knowing where you’re going, it’s pretty tough right now.”
Butler said the climbers did not expect snowy conditions at the summit and were unable to find the correct trail.
Fellow mission coordinator Glen Kratz also said there are a number of game trails near the summit and the pair likely took one that led toward the cliffs after encountering snow along the actual Mount Royal trail. Neither climber was equipped with a headlamp.
Following attempts to rappel down a steep hillside, the men were stranded above one of the mountain’s lower cliff bands in what was described as a heavily forested gully.
“It got too dark for them to proceed,” rescue coordinator Jim Koegel told the Summit Daily early Wednesday morning with the rescue still in progress.
Butler said the pair called 911 prior to sunset — which “is always appreciated on our part,” he added.
Emergency responders were able to triangulate coordinates from the cellphone that placed the 911 call to locate the climbers on the mountain.
A reporter with the Summit Daily reported seeing a flashing light at midmountain; it was later determined the light originated from one of the climber’s cell phones.
Shortly after a 9:18 p.m. call from emergency dispatch, Butler and three other members of the search team started up the Mount Royal trail in an attempt to reach the stranded climbers from above. The rescue party reached the climbers at around 12:30 a.m.
“It took a good amount of time to get down to them,” Butler said. “There’s a lot of downed trees and there’s still a lot of snow.”
The rescue party was able to reach the climbers without ropes by following the gully to the lower cliff band at midmountain.
By 2 a.m., the rescuers were still heading back up to the summit with the two climbers in order to follow the hiking trail back to the base of Mount Royal, where the rescue group had established its command post. Neither climber was injured in the incident and the group returned to the trailhead around 3:15 a.m.
“They acknowledged what they did wrong,” and were very appreciative, Koegel said, explaining that the pair were experienced climbers, but not especially familiar with snow.
“They topped out at snow and were ill at ease.”
In all, the two climbers spent around 12 hours on the mountain.
While mountains like Mount Royal and nearby Quandary Peak are generally considered easy hikes, Koegel said it’s not uncommon for the rescue group to receive calls from both sites. He described them as the most frequent rescue locations in the county.
“We’re on this mountain a lot,” he said of Royal.
Butler added, “I think it’s easy to get lost, especially if it’s approaching dark. You can see Frisco, but that doesn’t mean you can get down.”
And while Quandary is also suggested for backcountry novices, Koegel said it can be misleading.
“People look at Quandary and it’s rated ‘easy,’ and it is — on one route.”
However, other parts of the mountain are extremely steep and potentially dangerous. Calls for assistance frequently come from hikers who have left the designated trail.
“It’s a lack of respect for the mountain,” Koegel said, adding that anyone planning a hike should always bring a headlamp, extra food and additional layers. Those planning a longer hike should also account for changing weather in the mountains.
RESCUE SERVICE IS
FREE IN COLORADO
Colorado does not charge a rescue fee for anyone lost or otherwise stranded. Rescuers say they encourage people to call for assistance when needed, and before it’s too late.
Other states do charge fees on a case-by-case basis. Use of National Guard or Coast Guard helicopters is often logged as training hours for servicemen.
“I think it would be detrimental to the rescue,” Butler said regarding the potential for fees or fines. “It would lead to the public waiting until it is truly an emergency.”
The Summit County Rescue Group relies on donations, volunteer hours and grant funding in order to operate. The group works in conjunction with the Summit County Sheriffs Office.