Summit County Rescue Group on track for record year | SummitDaily.com
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Summit County Rescue Group on track for record year

Members of the Summit County Rescue Group carry a hiker suffering from altitude sickness off Quandary Peak on July 18. The volunteer group is on track for a record number of missions this year.
Photo from Summit County Rescue Group

FRISCO — The Summit County Rescue Group is on track for its busiest year ever.

Visitors flocked to the Summit County backcountry this summer to escape the humdrum of urban life on the Front Range or drove across state lines for quick trips to the mountains, perhaps pushing aside other plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And when there are visitors in the High Country, there will always be some who go missing or get injured. While the number of visitors heading through the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels is actually lower this year, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation, there seemingly hasn’t been a dip in the amount of visiting hikers, climbers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.



“We saw not only an increase in the number of rescues, but just driving around and looking at the trailheads, you saw the large number of cars that were parked,” said Charles Pitman, public information officer with the rescue group. “It was crazy, especially on busier trails like Quandary, where the parking lots would fill up, and people would park up and down Colorado Highway 9.

“In other areas — like the top of Ryan Gulch Road, where you would park to access the trails up to Buffalo Mountain and Lily Pad Lake — people were literally circling around and parking in the middle of the road waiting for people to leave. … That’s what we’re seeing in the statistics for the number of rescues called.”



The number of search and rescue missions in the area has been steadily growing over the past several years, according to a data provided by the group. In 2019, the rescue group conducted the most missions in its history, with a total of 141. By the end of August last year, the group had responded to a total of 104 calls.

With four months left this year, the rescue group already has seen at least 129 calls and is well above pace to see its busiest year in history.

“Last year was the busiest,” Pitman said. “But we’re definitely on pace to break the record this year. We have a holiday weekend coming up, and I expect we’ll see some rescues. And we still have the fall season, when a lot of people like to come up and have one last hurrah before the winter sets in.”

summit-rescue-group-operations-2020

Despite the increasing call numbers, Pitman said the rescue group hasn’t had too much trouble handling the load, sometimes as many as three or four calls a day during the busiest months in the summer.

The team currently consists of about 65 volunteers, who respond to calls whenever they’re available. Pitman said there are currently no plans to expand their roster, though the group is engaged in early efforts to raise funds for a new facility.

Pitman called the group’s current facility at the County Commons in Frisco “woefully out of date” and noted that the group has to store vehicles and equipment all over the county — some as far away as Heeney — and shift them around during different seasons so that they’re prepared when calls come in.

A new facility would allow the group to finally consolidate all of its equipment into one area. The facility likely would be built at the County Commons, and while officials are still in the early planning stages, the group is actively developing a new brochure to aid in fundraising efforts.

Summit County Rescue Group members gather at their County Commons facility in July.
Photo from Summit County Rescue Group

Because search and rescue operations are free for individuals in need, the group largely gets its operating funds through donations from community members and individuals they’ve saved, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, and grants from local organizations like The Summit Foundation and Breckenridge Grand Vacations.

Pitman said the group’s annual budget is highly variable depending on what equipment needs they have to fill that year, peaking in years when the group has to spend big on a new ATV or snowmobile, or even a new response vehicle priced in the $70,000 to $90,000 range.

“The budget does vary a lot annually, but some years it can get quite high,” Pitman said.

Backcountry essentials

• Navigation: map of the area, compass, GPS, extra batteries or charger
• Signaling: whistle, mirror, cellphone, surveyor tape
• Light source: headlamp, flashlight, extra batteries
• Nourishment: water, high-energy food for 24-48 hours
• Shelter: waterproof tarp, bivvy sack, parachute cord
• Fire building: waterproof matches or lighter, heat tabs, knife
• Personal aid: first-aid kit with medications, sunscreen, dark glasses, bug repellent
• Weather protection: extra socks, warm gloves, rain gear, hat, bug net
• Winter extras: avalanche beacon, probe, shovel with metal blade
• Rules to follow: never hike alone, always leave a schedule and trip plan with someone at home, stay on the trail, wait for search and rescue if you become lost
Source: SCRG.org

While the number of calls continues to increase, the group isn’t anticipating any need for additional equipment, though Pitman noted that more missions does mean more rapid wear and tear on what they already have.

And despite frequent preventative efforts — trying to get the word out on backcountry safety in the Summit Daily News and on local TV stations —  Pitman said its unlikely the trend of rescue calls starts to reverse.

Still, there are some simple steps that recreationists can take to help keep themselves out of trouble. Pitman noted that planning was key and urged anyone heading out on a hike to properly research how long it will take so that they don’t leave panicking friends or family at home to call 911 unnecessarily. Anyone expecting to spend some time in the backcountry should also carry a headlamp and should download an inexpensive GPS app for their phone in case they lose the trail.

“The workload is going to continue to go up,” Pitman said. “It’s just what we’re going to have to deal with. … But a lot of those types of calls could be properly resolved without us, and taking a couple of these steps can really help to mitigate some of that.”


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