Summit County Rescue Group saves stranded skiers, missing hiker in dangerous avalanche conditions
Summit County Rescue Group volunteers performed a pair of simultaneous missions Sunday, Jan. 3, helping to rescue a pair of stranded skiers and a missing hiker.
At about 2:30 p.m., the rescue group received a call regarding two skiers who were stuck in the Coin Slot chute on Mount Royal. The skiers were at the top of the skiable terrain when they noticed a sudden collapse in the snow and were concerned they couldn’t safely descend without causing an avalanche. The skiers also were unable to climb back up to the top.
Volunteers fielded a nine-person rescue mission, which included setting up a technical evacuation system at the top of the chute and having two team members rappel to the skiers. With the help of rescuers, the skiers were then able to climb back up the chute using ascending devices, essentially clamps attached to a fixed rope that tighten when weight is applied. The mission ended at about 7:30 p.m.
Both skiers were from Summit County. Neither individual was hurt in the incident, which officials said might have been lucky given the avalanche danger in the area.
“Although this mission was successfully accomplished with no injuries to either the stranded parties or rescuers, it was a challenging effort,” Charles Pitman, a spokesperson with the rescue group, said in a news release. “Accomplishing such a task in serious avalanche conditions, poor weather and at night means considerable risk for the team.
“According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there were areas of significant avalanche concern on Sunday, and the Coin Slot would have been included. Although this rescue turned out well, the dangerous conditions were worrisome for command and the team. As for the rescued parties, they were very fortunate. One more step or turn, and they could have taken a very traumatic ride with a potentially devastating outcome.”
At 3 p.m., while rescuers were helping the skiers on Mount Royal, another call came in about a missing hiker on Quandary Peak. An out-of-state hiker told a family member he intended to hike up the peak’s east ridge, but the family member became worried when he hadn’t checked in, and they decided to call for help.
A rescue team was sent to the hiker’s intended route but didn’t find any sign of the man. The team also questioned other hikers who were coming off of the mountain but couldn’t establish any definitive sightings.
At about 5:30 p.m., one of the rescue group members spotted the missing hiker’s headlamp coming down the mountain, and the group escorted him back down. He was not injured.
According to the rescue group, the hiker deviated from what he thought was his intended route up Quandary Peak and ascended a north-facing couloir, which the group described as a 40-degree pitch with deep snow and substantial avalanche danger.
“A 40-degree slope angle is prime for avalanches,” Pitman said. “Hiking alone and deviating from your posted plan is not recommended. Although we were searching on the party’s originally intended route, he ascended the peak nowhere near that trail. Had he been in serious trouble, this could have ended with a tragic outcome. In addition, this hiker was unaware that the weather was due to change from sun to snow later in the day.”
Pitman emphasized that anyone visiting the area’s backcountry should use every resource at their disposal to plan and execute a safe adventure.
“Weather forecasts, potential avalanche conditions, websites with the experiences of previous people on the route you intend to use — all of these can make for a safe experience,” Pitman said. “We dodged a bullet or two on Sunday.”
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