Summer weather and visitors are beginning to tax volunteer-staffed Chaffee County Search and Rescue-North, which has responded to three dozen missions this year.
CCSAR-N president Scott Anderson said there has been an uptick in the frequency of calls this year.
“I believe that social media has increased the popularity of the 14ers without stressing the reality of the difficulties,” Anderson said.
A long week for volunteers began when a search for an overdue hiker on Mount Antero led Chaffee County Search and Rescue-North on a mission that lasted through the night Friday into Saturday morning, July 8, according to CCSAR-N president Scott Anderson.
“It’s just a huge area to cover,” Anderson said.
A call came in at around 7:15 Friday night that the hiker was overdue. Sheriff’s office vehicles couldn’t get up to the Baldwin Gulch trailhead for several hours because of mudslides (on CR 162), Anderson said. Once they were able to get to the trailhead, they found the hiker’s vehicle still empty.
SAR then sent an ATV team up the mountain.
“It was 1:50 in the morning before they even started up the trail,” Anderson said.
The ATV team searched the main route of the trail first, waking and interviewing every camper they came across. At 4 a.m., they reached the summit without finding the missing hiker.
The team then decided to prepare a second operational period to begin at 8 a.m. Saturday once the sun had come up.
This time, ATVs and jeeps went up every trail to the summit. A hiking team went up Brown’s Creek trail.
An ATV heading toward Brown’s Creek from the west interviewed a hiker who said they had seen a disoriented person near Brown’s Lake.
The hiking team came across the disoriented hiker near Brown’s Falls and hiked him to the trailhead, where he was treated by EMS.
On July 10, a hiker on Huron Peak injured his leg at 13,000 feet. By the time team members had gotten to him, a group of fellow hikers had put his leg in a splint and got him below the treeline as afternoon storms moved in.
On Sunday, July 9, four hikers on La Plata Peak’s Ellingwood Ridge were airlifted off the mountain by Flight for Life crews after reporting altitude sickness.
“One hiker was suffering from serious altitude sickness and, for a while, unable to move,” read a post on Chaffee County Search and Rescue North’s Facebook page.
An initial flyover by Flight for Life could not find the party, so CCSAR-N sent hiking parties up the Ellingwood Ridge route and the standard route under the assumption that the hikers had begun to descend, and a third team was airlifted to the ridge.
According to the post, one of the teams found the hikers in La Plata Basin.
Later that night, a report came in for three overdue hikers from the Devnver area on Mount Yale who said they got “lost for about 3 hours.”
The call came in at noon, and CCSAR-N’s post says that everyone made it to safety by 7:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, July 11, a solo Mount Princeton hiker was escorted down the mountain by a Chaffee County Search and Rescue-North ATV after texting family members that she had become overwhelmed by the hike.
“Please know that there are NO EASY 14ers,” the post about the Mount Princeton mission reads.
“You see a lot of that,” said David Volpe, co-owner of Boneshaker Cycles. “We just see people underestimate what they’re getting themselves into.”
“It’s real out there,” he said. “they encounter elevation and rocks and a totally new environment than anything they’re used to. They’re not in Kansas anymore.”
“Breathing is much more difficult for people not acclimatized,” said Anderson. “Weather changes, specifically lightning and much colder temperatures, are much more uncertain, particularly because you can’t see weather moving in from behind the mountain.”
“Know your abilities, research the route, check the weather before you go, start early enough to be back down to the treeline before noon and keep an eye on the weather before you go.” CCSAR-N posted on Facebook.
“In the summer, regular mountain thunderstorms create significant risk of being struck by lightning,” reads CCSAR-N’s “14 tips for 14er Fun” on its website.
“It was written to address the most common causes of missions involving our area 14ers,” said Anderson.
Other tips: “Hike with a trustworthy friend,” “Decide on a time to turn around and head back, even if you don’t summit,” “Use sun protection,” “It can be sunny and 80 degrees in the valley while hailing, windy and 35 degrees at the summit” and “Your cellphone is not reliable.”
Anderson says the piece of gear that hikers most often leave at home is a GPS locator and backcountry communication device like a Garmin InReach or SPOT device.
Having one of those may address item 8 on the 14er list: “Be prepared to spend the night.”
“When things go wrong, it can take many hours for Search & Rescue to reach you,” the list says. “Having a means for fire and shelter as well as a headlamp, sure makes the wait more tolerable.”
Anderson also said that people often don’t pack enough layers for the rapidly changing weather conditions at 14,000 feet.
He also suggests the “systems approach” of the Mountaineers’ classic “10 Essentials.”
“It covers the info in a way that’s much more useful than just stuffing one’s pack with gear,” he said.
Expanding on the classic list of items including a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp, first-aid kit, firestarter, matches, knife and extra food, the list suggests planning one’s pack along 10 systems of survival.
The new list suggests packing items for navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first-aid, fire, repair, nutrition, hydration and shelter.