Summit County Rescue Group saves climber who fell 30 feet near Montezuma

Volunteer rescue group is on the verge of surpassing its record call volume from 2020

Summit County Rescue Group members and emergency medical workers with Summit Fire & EMS helped rescue an injured climber who fell 30 feet off a cliff face near Montezuma on Sunday, Sept. 19.
Summit County Rescue Group/Courtesy photo

An injured climber was transported to a Front Range hospital via Flight for Life on Sunday, Sept. 19, after suffering a serious fall down a cliff face near Montezuma.

At about 11 a.m., the rescue group was dispatched to a climbing area between Keystone and Montezuma known as Haus Rock, located a short drive down Montezuma Road off a pullout, according to Summit County Rescue Group Public Information Officer Anna DeBattiste.

The man was climbing a wall alone when he fell about 30 feet to the ground. A group of nearby climbers who witnessed the incident called 911, and about 15 rescue workers responded shortly thereafter to provide emergency assistance.

DeBattiste said it’s unclear what caused the man to fall. She also said she couldn’t speak directly to the severity of the man’s condition but said he was conscious when rescue workers arrived and that the weighty circumstances surrounding his injuries called for a heavy response.

“His rope was still hanging there, and it was straight vertical,” DeBattiste said. “… The primary reason we called for Flight for Life was the mechanism of injury. A straight, vertical, 30-foot fall can have serious consequences.”

Rescue workers found him quickly at the bottom of the cliff face, so the mission didn’t require any kind of high-angle technical rescue. Instead, the rescue group, with the assistance of medical personnel with Summit Fire & EMS, performed a “scree evacuation,” which DeBattiste described as a low-angle evacuation, where the group set up rope anchors on steeper parts of the trail to help lower him down on a litter.

In all, the mission took about two hours. The climber was transported via ambulance to Keystone Medical Center, where Flight for Life arrived to take him to a Denver-area hospital.

“It’s lucky there were bystanders who witnessed the fall; otherwise, it’s questionable how long it would have taken for us to be called,” DeBattiste said.

Summit County Rescue Group members and emergency medical workers with Summit Fire & EMS helped to rescue an injured climber who fell 30 feet off a cliff face near Montezuma on Sunday, Sept. 19.
Summit County Rescue Group/Courtesy photo

The call was just the latest in another busy summer for the rescue group. The all-volunteer team is poised to again shatter its previous call-volume record, what is becoming an annual trend as more individuals frequent the Summit County backcountry. After an active 2018 in which the group received 123 calls for service, the team saw call volumes increase to record numbers in 2019 (141) and 2020 (185). To date this year, the group has received 184 calls.

“The sheer number of calls is becoming burdensome for the coordinators,” DeBattiste said. “They’re juggling multiple calls at once — 8, 9, 10, 11 calls in a week. … We’re obviously going to set another record for the third year in a row.”

And the year is far from over. Summer officially comes to an end with the arrival of the autumnal equinox Wednesday, Sept. 22, though the eye-catching leaves dotting the county’s landscape and dusting of snow Sunday night argue it ended some time ago. But as the weather continues to cool, DeBattiste said outdoor recreationists need to take extra care to plan their adventures and ensure they’re not left stranded out in the cold.

“Don’t let your summer routines carry you into fall without extra preparation on the hiking trails,” DeBattiste said. “… It’s beautiful hiking season right now, and people are still going out and doing all the summer things. Just remember that the 10 essentials are even more important to carry right now because of the temperatures. If you get caught out later than you expected, you’re going to need those warm layers, (and) you’re going to need some extra calories.”

DeBattiste also said it is time for backcountry skiers and snowboarders to begin refreshing their avalanche safety skills.

“Winter is coming,” she said. “It’s time to start thinking about avalanche awareness and what you’re going to do to be prepared this winter. Brush up on your avalanche rescue skills, take another course. … It’s good to get an early start because we know last year everything booked up really early.”

The 10 essentials of backcountry travel

• Navigation: map, compass and GPS system

• Signaling: whistle, mirror, cellphone, surveyor tape

• Light source: headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries

• Nourishment: water and high-energy food for 24-48 hours

• Shelter: lightweight waterproof tarp, bivy sack, parachute cord

• Fire building: waterproof matches, fire starters, knife, saw

• Personal protection: medications, first-aid kit, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug repellent

• Weather protection: extra clothing, rain gear, hat, gloves, heavy-duty plastic bag

• Winter add-ons: avalanche beacon, probe pole, shovel

• Rules to follow: Never go alone, always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return, stay on the trail, know how to use your equipment and remain calm and stay where you are if lost.

Source: Summit County Rescue Group

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