Rescue group saves climbers on Mount Royal, finds missing kayaker on lower Blue River
DILLON — The Summit County Rescue Group has seen a noticeable increase in calls over recent weeks, as visitors and residents take to the backcountry to enjoy warmer weather, perhaps unprepared for changing snow and water conditions.
Just in recent days, the group has helped to rescue a pair of stranded climbers on Mount Royal, and a missing kayaker in the lower Blue River.
“We’ve noticed a significant spike upwards in the last three weeks,” said Charles Pitman, a spokesperson for the rescue group. “… Water levels are rising and snow conditions are changing, all at a rapid pace. In addition, with a relaxation of travel advisories more people are heading to the mountains and wanting to get into the backcountry.”
At about 7:45 p.m. Friday, the rescue group was notified of two climbers unable to descend from a climb on Mount Royal, just outside of Frisco. The men began their ascent at around 10 a.m. on a route called Royal Flush. They climbed to within 100 feet of the summit, but decided to turn around after one of the climber’s existing foot injury started to flare up, according to the rescue group.
Trouble began during their descent, when the men apparently came to a point where they were uncertain of the placement of previously set anchors, and were unable to continue the rappel down. They called for assistance once they got stuck.
Matt Hage, mission coordinator for the rescue, said the group sent a rescuer familiar with the route on the other side of Interstate 70, where he was able to spot the climbers with binoculars. The rescuer was able to relay the locations of the pre-set anchors to the men over the phone, but the climbers didn’t have headlamps and were unable to make out the anchors in quickly fading light.
The rescue group sent a team of two climbers up to the men, who were able to safely guide them off the cliff face. The mission lasted until about 2 a.m. Saturday morning.
Hage said that while the men had some experience climbing, they clearly underestimated the length of the climb. He continued to say that whether climbing or hiking, proper planning and practicing good time management is key to having a successful adventure.
“They got to the point where they decided they would be unable to complete the descent without undue risk,” said Hage, in a release. “… The climbers were not equipped to spend a cold night on a rock ledge. Our only alternative was to provide some assistance. Something as simple as headlamps would have made a difference between a successful descent and becoming stranded.”
The team was back in action on Saturday. At about 11:20 a.m., the group was notified of a missing kayaker on the lower Blue River north of Silverthorne. Two men, a father and son, entered the river above the Blue River Campground a few minutes earlier on lake kayaks. The men were inexperienced and had little knowledge of the river or runoff, according to the rescue group.
Shortly after entering the river, the younger man fell out of his kayak. The father saw him fall and successfully make it back to shore, and decided to try and retrieve his son’s boat. At that point, he went around a corner and out of view of his son.
Another experienced kayaker witnessed the incident, and caught up with the father to tell him he should exit the river quickly to avoid upcoming Class IV rapids ahead. He attempted to exit the river, but got caught in the rapids and dumped into the water. The experienced kayaker met up with the son, and called 911.
Various emergency agencies responded, including law enforcement, Summit Fire & EMS and the rescue group’s swift water team. The group searched the area between the Blue River Campground and the Columbine Takeout, including a water rescuer who searched the riverbanks on a boogie board. The man was discovered on the opposite side of the river at about 12:21 p.m.
“The river is getting to the point that it should be left to those who have the proper equipment, experience in river kayaking and knowledge of the river,” said Hage. “Even those with experience need to understand the river’s characteristics during spring runoff.”
One of the men’s boats is still submerged in the river, but the rescue team has determined it’s too dangerous to try and retrieve it. Officials hope the water flow either increases or decreases enough for the boat to release on its own.
Pitman said that as more residents and visitors head to the backcountry, planning ahead can often help prevent a search and rescue call.
“Many of our calls for assistance might not be necessary if there was proper planning,” Pitman said. “Warm clothes, extra food, a GPS app and a headlamp can go a long way to reducing the effects of bad weather, a lost trail and a setting sun.”
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