Buena Vista – Four out-of-state hikers were in for the adventure of their life Wednesday night.
After flying into Denver from the Detroit metro area Tuesday morning with plans for a Mount Yale summit Wednesday by way of the Denny Creek Trailhead, 30-year-old Steve Coykendall, brother Brian and friend Matt Dion became disoriented at around 2 p.m., following a flurry of snow and whiteout conditions.
The three were located by a REACH helicopter at around midnight Thursday morning near Delaney Gulch, not far from the Denny Creek Trailhead.
Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze confirmed that none of the three men required medical assistance and that a fourth party member who departed from the group earlier in the day had reached out to the sheriff’s office around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
The party was located and assisted by Chaffee County Search and Rescue North and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and eventually hiked back down the trail around 1:30 a.m.
At midmorning Wednesday, fellow hiker William Sowders decided to depart from the group due to fatigue and not wanting to hold the group back, he said.
By 8 p.m., Sowders became worried that the group may have gotten lost and contacted the sheriff’s office, which established a search party shortly after.
“I was expecting them to be done at 6. By 7 p.m., I decided to speak with some of the family members and we all decided that at 8 p.m. we needed to call Search and Rescue,” Sowders said.
Up on the mountain, the group began hiking around attempting to find cell service but was not able to establish contact that afternoon.
“It started to get super cold and dark and windy at around dusk. We had gone straight up a hill looking for cell service to call someone for help, call our parents, call our children,” Steve Coykendall said, noting the group had taken the trip to celebrate his 30th birthday. “People were expecting us back hours ago. Little did we know Will was at the wheel.”
The group continued hiking around attempting to find cell service with no luck.
“We got turned around at one spot and after that we were bushwhacking. We never found the trail after that,” Dion said.
Deciding to hunker down around 8 p.m., the group built a fire and dug in, lining jackets and their sleeping area with pine needles to stay warm.
“We had a talk about death, the three of us, just while we were sitting there trying to stay warm,” Steve said. “You read about it. You see the movies on TV or whatever, but we were living it and we were freezing in the middle of nowhere, with limited resources and no phone.”
“We were spent, just spent. The real scary part was when we said it was time to shut this down and go into survival mode,” Brian Coykendall said.
Shortly after midnight, the group woke up to the sounds of a helicopter. Assuming it was looking for them, they started stoking the fire and signaling for help.
By early morning the group was assisted by four search parties and was escorted back down the mountain.
While the group said they had varying levels of experience mountain climbing, no one in the group was experienced with winter summits.
“The Search and Rescue North team were on point … those four guys (search party) were the most professional, outstanding individuals. All four of us would like to send out a thank you to them. They are my hero without question,” Brian said.