Chaffee County Search and Rescue North and South teams joined forces to rescue two hikers Sunday morning in Mount Tabeguache’s McCoy Gulch.
After reaching the summit of Mount Tabeguache Saturday afternoon, the hikers from Boulder, James Boyce, 50, and daughter-in-law Ray Boyce, 35, took the wrong route down and ended up in McCoy Gulch, a notoriously steep and dangerous area of the mountain.
“That particular trail is not often used and it’s easy to get off of it,” Don Dubin, Chaffee County Search and Rescue South vice president, said.
After reaching some steep cliffs that they couldn’t descend, James Boyce called 911 around 7 p.m. The hikers were originally connected to Saguache’s 911 service, who told them how to find their GPS coordinates on their phone. Once the hikers found their coordinates, they were connected with Chaffee County.
Dubin said he spoke with James Boyce several times, telling them to stay put and assuring him that they would be rescued.
“We were able to obtain a GPS position from his cellphone, which enabled us to start a rescue plan,” Dubin said.
Their location, however, made getting them out a challenge.
“The hikers were in a very unusual spot where none of us had been before, and the decision making of how to approach this particular rescue was a difficult one,” Dubin said.
He said when they usually go into the McCoy Gulch area to help people, it’s on the west side of the creek, not the east side where the hikers were.
The decision eventually was made to launch the rescue mission at first light on Sunday morning.
“We didn’t want the hikers to spend the night on the mountain, but with the weather and tough terrain to consider, we also always have to make decisions to keep our rescuers as safe as possible,” Dubin said.
Drizzling rain made the rocks slick, making their location even more dangerous.
The Boyces were able to find a cave to take shelter in for the night. They also had food and water and were uninjured. “Had there been an injury, we might have gone up last night,” Dubin said Sunday.
Chaffee County Search and Rescue South continued evaluating the situation and decided to call in some reinforcements from Chaffee County Search and Rescue North.
“Considering the precariously steep area they were trapped in, the decision was made to call the high-angle rescue team from the north- end SAR to assist with the rescue,” Dubin said.
The hikers were found at approximately 8:30 a.m. Sunday. Rescuers from the north team initiated a rope rescue to take the two hikers off the most precarious portion of the terrain. Dubin said they had to be rappelled and belayed about two pitches.
After the rope rescue, they were met by the rest of the rescue team and then brought safely down. “It was less than a mile as the crow flies; it was just really steep,” Dubin said. “Some of it was total cliffs, but there was one little spot to get down and that’s where we went. It was just hard to see it (from above).”
Dubin said he was “extremely grateful” for the assistance from the north-end team.
“They are highly trained and very good at these types of rescues,” Dubin said. “Our teams, both North and South, work extremely well together and the mission went very smoothly.”
Dubin said the main lesson for hikers to take away from the rescue is to be prepared by having a map and a compass or a GPS device. The Boyces had neither, which would have shown them they were off course earlier.
Dubin also reminded hikers to tell people where they’re going and when they plan on getting back because using a cellphone isn’t always an option.