Summit County Rescue Group saves injured hiker and off-roader as busy year in the backcountry continues |

Summit County Rescue Group saves injured hiker and off-roader as busy year in the backcountry continues

Hikers enjoy a late morning refuel and conversation on the 14,278-foot summit of Grays Peak, with sister summit Torreys Peak to the north, along the Continental Divide at the eastern border of Summit County on Saturday, Sept. 19. Summit County Rescue Group spokesperson Charles Pitman said crowded trailheads this summer and fall are impacting rescue times.
Photo by Antonio Olivero /

KEYSTONE — The Summit County Rescue Group performed a pair of successful missions Tuesday afternoon, helping to rescue an injured hiker and off-roader as the volunteer group continues to deal with increased call volumes.

It’s been an abnormally busy year for the rescue group, which is responding to calls in record numbers as visitors and residents continue to make their way to Summit’s backcountry to recreate. Officials say the call load has remained high even as the area moves out of summer and the weather starts to cool down.

“This time of year, you really sort of expect things to slow down,” said Charles Pitman, the group’s spokesperson. “And it has a little, but not a lot.”

At about 3 p.m. Tuesday, the group responded to a call to rescue an injured hiker, who took a “misstep” and sustained a lower-leg injury on a trail near Spruce Creek Road west of Blue River, according to Pitman.

While the man was injured on a hiking trail, the group was forced to perform a technical rescue because of the steep nature of the terrain.

“In getting out and down some of these trails, there are some small cliff bands,” Pitman said. “They may only be 15 feet high, but when you’re carrying someone in a litter, you can’t just walk them down because it’s approaching vertical. So the best way to do it is to set up a rope system and bring them down as you would during a rescue on a major cliff face. Not only is that the more expedient way to get down, but it’s also the safest.”

The rescue team got the man back down to the road by about 7:30 p.m., and he was taken for additional care. The injury was not life threatening.

In addition to more frequent rescue calls this year, Pitman said the number of people packing the trailheads also has created additional difficulties in responding to operations, including in this case.

“We get to the point where there are so many cars parked up Spruce Creek Road that we can’t get our vehicles where they need to go,” Pitman said. “We’re having to park lower down and ferry equipment up to where we need to stage.

“You see a lot of vehicles parked on these trailheads normally, but this year has been an order of magnitude worse. It becomes a challenge for us, especially when we have 20 members responding in their cars with nowhere to park. It can make an impact on our response time.”

At about 5 p.m., as rescuers worked to bring down the hiker, another rescue team was sent to Grand County, where a woman suffered a severe lower-leg injury after an all-terrain vehicle accident north of Green Mountain Reservoir.

An out-of-town group of three rented ATVs and were driving on jeep roads in the area. On their way back down, Pitman said the group came across a broken down ATV in the road and were forced to try to go back up the road and around it. One woman ran into a rock and rolled her ATV.

The rescue team responded along with paramedics from Summit and Grand counties, and the woman was transported down the hill and taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center for treatment. Pitman described the woman’s injury as a “pretty bad break” but not life threatening.

Pitman went on to say that leg injuries are common for ATV drivers, who sometimes put out a leg to try to stop the vehicle from tipping over. He couldn’t say whether that was the cause of the woman’s injury in this incident.

“Instead of trying to bail off uphill and let the ATV roll away from you, a lot of times the first inclination is to put your foot down and try to keep it from rolling,” Pitman said. “It’s a natural thing for people to do, but the ATV is so heavy, it’s not going to happen.”

That mission wrapped up at about 8 p.m.

With significant increases in calls throughout the year, Pitman said the rescue group is getting ready for what could be a busy winter.

“We’re preparing for winter,” Pitman said. “We don’t know what’s ahead of us. There have been stories about backcountry stores and manufacturers selling out of gear early on, so it’ll be interesting to see if we’re going to see a repeat of this summer. We’ll find out.”

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