Summit County rescue group member remains hospitalized after June hiking accident
A Summit County Rescue Group member is in the hospital recovering from a spinal injury suffered in a fall early last month, according to rescue group spokesperson Charles Pitman.
On June 5, Summit County Rescue Group mission coordinator Rich Miller, 70, was critically injured in a hiking accident north of Steamboat Springs. Miller was hiking with a group of friends just inside the border between Colorado and Wyoming on a trail to King Solomon Falls. During the hike, Miller tripped and sustained spinal cord injuries, according to Pitman.
Because there is no cell coverage in the area, a hiker had to make their way down the trail and drive to a ranch to call in emergency responders, which ultimately included rescuers from Steamboat Lake State Park, North Routt Fire Protection District and Routt County Search and Rescue.
Krista Check-Hill, incident commander with Routt County Search and Rescue, said they rarely get calls from that area, about one every three years, and it takes about 90 minutes for rescue teams to make their way from Steamboat Springs to the trailhead.
“It’s really narrow, really sketchy, and it goes to the end where there’s a pool,” Check-Hill said about the trail. “… It’s pretty treacherous just getting in there. You’ve got to hold onto the branches, hold onto the trees and that kind of stuff. … You can kind of envision a skinny, little trail that, as you’re going in on your left hand side, it drops off to the creek and, on your right hand side, it kind of goes up. So there’s not a whole lot of room for error going in. Unfortunately, I think (Miller) just tripped over something and fell.”
Check-Hill said Miller was about a quarter mile from the trailhead when the accident happened. She said she was told by members of the party that he tripped on something and landed on his head close to the trail. He was conscious when rescue workers responded, Check-Hill said.
Responders placed Miller in a full-body vacuum mattress — described by Check-Hill as a big beanbag that wraps around an injured person and turns rigid to immobilize the individual after the air is sucked out — and carried him by hand on a litter to the steepest part of the trail. From there, rescue workers used a basket and a rope system to get him to a staging area where a Classic Air Medical helicopter was able to transport him to the UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland.
In total, the mission took almost four hours from the time rescue workers were paged to the time the helicopter was airborne. Check-Hill said Miller’s position on the trail and his own experience as a rescue worker helped to speed up the process.
“It took probably two hours (fewer) because he wasn’t that far down the trail as some of our other calls were,” Check-Hill said. “That mission typically takes anywhere from six to 10 hours. … Since (Miller) was a search and rescue person, he kind of knew the deal, and he was very calm even though it was a difficult situation. I think his experience being on Summit County (Rescue Group) and being a mission coordinator really helped his situation.”
Members of the Summit County Rescue Group lauded all of the emergency workers who responded to help Miller in his time of need.
“Although, as a (search and rescue) team, we routinely deal with backcountry injuries, the fact that this happened to a teammate, and the injuries are so serious, it really makes you come together even more as a team,” Pitman said. “It also makes you appreciate all of your brother and sister rescuers throughout the state. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Routt County Search and Rescue, the park rangers from Steamboat Lake State Park, the North Routt Fire Protection District and Classic Air Medical for their professional, prompt and caring response.”
Pitman said Miller is a 14-year member of Summit County Rescue Group. He’s currently at Kindred Hospital in Denver and is expected to remain in Denver during a lengthy recovery process, according to Pitman.
“We wish Rich and his wife, Carolyn, all the best on his road to recovery, and we look forward to their returning to Summit County,” Pitman said.
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