Man rescued near site of Rainbow Gathering

Spencer Powell
The Colorado Sun

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A 57-year-old man got lost on Saddle Mountain, one mile south of Adams Park, and prompted Routt County Search and Rescue to send a team into that remote corner of Northwest Colorado. 

According to Search and Rescue, the man called 911 asking for help at about 11:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 15. The man had set up camp in the area and went for a walk wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and boots.

Rescuers were uncertain if the man was in the area to attend the Rainbow Gathering but said he was found within walking distance to the gathering’s site — close enough that the rescue helicopter would have been visible from the Rainbow Family’s camps.

Search and Rescue added that the man had become disoriented among the dense forest and confusing drainages in the area.

The man reportedly called for help after suffering a laceration on his leg while crossing a scree field. His cell phone connected to a tower nearby, so Routt County Communications dispatchers and Search and Rescue command were able to verify his location. 

The 57-year-old was told to stay where he was because he still had cell service. The temperature that night was in the low 40s with winds between 10-15 mph, so the man built a campfire while he waited for the rescue team. 

The rescue team considered a ground-based approach but determined it would have taken two to three hours just to drive to the trailhead where they would then have to trek through miles of backcountry to his location. The man was several miles off trail, so a journey by foot would have been treacherous and time-consuming, according to rescuers. 

“If you’ve ever hiked through deadfall, one mile can take hours,” said John Williams, who led the rescue team. 

Routt County Search and Rescue enlisted the help of Classic Air Medical, which flew him and another member of Search and Rescue in a helicopter out of the Steamboat Springs Airport.  

The lost man’s campfire was visible from the air, so it was easy to find him and simply a matter of landing the helicopter as close as possible safely.

The pilot found a spot to land on an unnamed ridge near Saddle Mountain. Williams said the helicopter pilot was experienced and well trained for backcountry landings. 

From there, it only took Williams and his partner, Tim Wohlgenant, five minutes to make verbal contact with the man, Because the helicopter landed so close, it was a short 10-15 minute hike to get to him. 

Williams and his partner provided first-aid, food and warm clothes for the lost hiker, who was then taken back to the helicopter and transported to the UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

After a roughly six-hour rescue, everyone was out of the area at 5:30 a.m. Thursday, June 16.  

To help prevent similar incidents, Routt County Search and Rescue released some guidelines for those visiting the Adams Park area — where the 50th annual Rainbow Gathering is being held.  

“We would like to emphasize to all those who are gathering in the Adams Park area that this is one of the most remote corners of Routt County,” search and rescue warned. “Calling for help may be difficult or impossible with limited cell coverage and it will take 2-3-plus hours for a SAR team to reach you.”

Search and Rescue noted that overnight temperatures can drop to near freezing, and when the wind blows, there is significant hazard from falling beetle-kill trees.

Additionally, heavy precipitation on the roads in the area can make them impassable, further impacting response times and rescuers’ safety. Also, people should be prepared when venturing away from camp by wearing proper footwear, carrying extra food and water, bringing a headlamp and warm layers and letting someone know where they are headed.

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