Driver who got pickup stuck on Colorado 14er is hit with hefty tow bill

Throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains and Interstate 70 corridor, vehicle recoveries like this are all-too common, according to the company that towed the pickup from Mt. Lincoln

Colorado 4x4 Rescue and Recovery/Courtesy photo
A driver who apparently didn't realize he was on a hiking trail, not a road, got his vehicle stuck above 10,000 feet on Mt. Lincoln in Park County on Aug. 27, 2023. It took several days to recover the vehicle.
Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery/Courtesy photo

The now-infamous driver of a pickup truck that became stuck on a Colorado 14er late last month initially balked when Mountain Recovery, a local tow company, quoted its rates to retrieve the vehicle.

But about a week later, the driver who somewhat inexplicably traversed his GMC Canyon up a hiking trail at Mount Lincoln, a 14,293-foot peak in Park County, on Aug. 27, called Mountain Recovery back. 

After an unsuccessful attempt to recover the truck, the vehicle was still at the top of the mountain, and he decided he needed the tow company’s expertise afterall, Mountain Recovery owner Charlie Stubblefield said.

“Anything we do off-road is very expensive. The equipment is expensive and the liability is expensive,” Stubblefield said. “You have to have a five-star, awesome operator go out there. It’s not a cheap date.”

The GMC Canyon became stuck on Mount Lincoln on part of the Decalibron Loop on Aug. 27 after the driver drove up the trail, “seemingly not realizing it was not a road, but a hiking trail,” Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery said in a Facebook post.

The truck had Arkansas plates, Stubblefield said, adding that the driver was stationed with the Air Force in Colorado Springs, but he doesn’t believe he’s from Colorado.

The driver had apparently continued to drive as the trail narrowed and became stuck when his rear wheel slid off the trail, Colorado 4×4 Rescue wrote in the post. He reportedly walked down to Alma to find help to retrieve the vehicle.

The driver contacted Colorado 4×4 Rescue, a nonprofit vehicle search and rescue group, after his initial call to Mountain Recovery. The nonprofit performs off-road vehicle recovery services for free, so eight volunteers converged on the stuck vehicle on Tuesday, Aug. 29, according to the Facebook post.

“The truck was located at high elevation, off-camber, and in a scree field, making anchors a challenge,” Colorado 4×4 Rescue said in the statement. “The team attempted to place a pull pal anchor in different locations several times but were unsuccessful.”

Colorado 4x4 Rescue and Recovery/Courtesy photo
A driver who apparently didn’t realize he was on a hiking trail, not a road, got his vehicle stuck above 10,000 feet on Mt. Lincoln in Park County on Aug. 27, 2023. It took several days to recover the vehicle.
Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery/Courtesy photo

Colorado 4×4 Rescue volunteers were eventually able to maneuver the vehicle onto several traction boards and attempted to conduct a maneuver known as a “pendulum recovery” but were unsuccessful.

“After a long day working at high elevation and running out of daylight, they decided to abandon the recovery for that day and return another day with a different plan,” Colorado 4×4 Rescue wrote.

While Colorado 4×4 continued to work to come up with new plans to remove the vehicle, the driver called Mountain Recovery to complete the job on Sept. 1. The nonprofit group said it spent 132 man hours and team members drove a total of 1,480 miles during its attempt to recover the GMC Canyon.

Stubblefield said he “loves Colorado 4×4 to death” but wasn’t surprised that the group of volunteers couldn’t complete the job in a high-Alpine area above timberline with off-road 4×4 vehicles like Jeeps.

“Jeeps without an anchor like a tree around are kind of useless because they don’t weigh enough to anchor,” Stubblefield said.

That’s where Mountain Recovery’s track machine — a 12,000-pound Bobcat vehicle that drives on two 8-foot-long tracks rather than four wheels — came in handy. 

Mountain Recovery/Courtesy photo
Mountain Recovery’s track machine on Mt. Lincoln where a pickup truck became stuck on a hiking trail on Aug. 27, 2023.
Mountain Recovery/Courtesy photo

Unlike a Jeep, the track machine itself is heavy enough to serve as an anchor. The tracks also help spread out the vehicle’s weight so it disturbs less of the environment over which it travels, Stubblefield said.

“We’ve found we can take this track machine virtually anywhere off-road in the Rocky Mountains and we know we can get the job done with a high level of certainty the first time — quickly, proficiently, so that we leave a minimal environmental impact but also so we don’t completely destroy our customers’ wallets,” Stubblefield said.

While Stubblefield did not share the exact costs for the retrieval of the GMC Canyon from atop Mt. Lincoln, he said that off-road recoveries start at $1,600 and can cost much more based on the situation.

So, while the truck stuck atop Mt. Lincoln for six days may have proved a spectacle, it should also be a warning of the steep costs of off-roading unprepared in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, he said.

“It’s not as unusual as you think, unfortunately,” Stubblefield said. “We perform an off-road recovery one to two times a week pretty consistently in the spring, summer and fall. I would say a couple times a month we see someone who took a wrong turn and found themselves on a trail that was not intended for their vehicle.”

Vehicles ending up in places they shouldn’t is something of a regular occurrence in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, especially along the Interstate 70 corridor, where tourists and off-road enthusiasts flock, Stubblefield said. Last week, for example, Mountain Recovery helped recover a rented Ford Mustang that someone had driven off a hiking trail near Piney Lake north of Vail.

Stubblefield said Colorado has a “real problem” with how many people “are not at all prepared to go into the mountains,” but end up in the backcountry anyways, without knowledge of the trails or where off-road vehicles are or aren’t allowed. He believes companies that rent off-road equipment, like all-terrain vehiclkes and snowmobiles, sometimes add to this issue by not fully informing their customers about the dangers and challenges of backcountry terrain.

“It’s not all that uncommon,” Stubblefield said. “We just shake our heads and stop asking questions and get the job done.”

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