Missing climber found alive near Pyramid Peak after two days in snow
March 7, 2017
A 23-year-old mountaineer missing for two days after attempting to climb Pyramid Peak and falling nearly 1,500 feet was found alive late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
A person out running several miles up Maroon Creek Road first ran into Ryan Montoya around 4 p.m., then continued running down the road until the person found Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers on snowmobiles heading up the road, said Pitkin County Sheriff's Deputy Alex Burchetta.
Those volunteers transported him down the closed road to the Mountain Rescue staging area near the T-Lazy 7 Ranch, he said.
Montoya, missing since Sunday, likely came down the east side of the Pyramid Peak ridge and ended up on Maroon Creek Road, said Hugh Zuker of Mountain Rescue Aspen. He was found 3.5 to 4 four miles up the road from the ranch, he said.
"We were delighted he was OK," Zuker said. "He came out that far on his own power – that was a surprise."
Montoya, a Boulder resident, was suffering from frostbite, though the extent of his injuries was not immediately known Tuesday evening, Burchetta said. He was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital about 5 p.m., he said.
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The fact that Montoya was found alive – much less that he was able to walk out a long distance on his own – was a surprise because of the frigid and extremely windy conditions Monday, Zuker said. Winds on the Pyramid Peak ridgeline Monday reached 98 mph, he said.
"There was a very high risk of exposure," he said. "You've gotta know what you're doing."
Preliminary reports indicate Montoya fell about 1,500 feet Sunday while on Pyramid's east face, said Pitkin County Deputy Jesse Steindler.
"That makes sense because the prevailing winds Sunday were from west to east," said Steindler, who also didn't know the extent of Montoya's injuries.
Montoya left Boulder on Saturday and planned to skin up to Crater Lake to spend the night before attempting to climb Pyramid Peak on Sunday, Burchetta said. Mountain Rescue volunteers found a snow cave at the base of Pyramid's West Face on Monday that contained Montoya's backpack, sleeping bag and bivy sack, Burchetta said.
On Tuesday, Mountain Rescue volunteers discovered Montoya's skis and boots above the snow cave, which may indicate that Montoya dropped them on his ascent because they were too heavy, he said.
Rescuers also found remnants of a large avalanche near the skis and boots that appeared to be two to three days old and had slid from well above that location to the valley floor, Burchetta said. Search teams, including 12 Mountain Rescue volunteers, spent a good portion of Tuesday probing the avalanche, he said.
Montoya did have an avalanche beacon, though crews on the ground did not detect a signal from it Tuesday, Burchetta said.
A fixed wing airplane with the ability to take high-resolution pictures made passes around the 14,026-foot Pyramid Peak on Tuesday, he said. A Blackhawk helicopter based in Gypsum was grounded Tuesday because of winds and did not participate in the search, Burchetta said.
LGS Innovations in the Denver area – where Montoya works – volunteered to fly a plane with special equipment that might have been able to detect Montoya's cell phone near the mountain Tuesday as well, Burchetta said.
Montoya had been described as an experienced climber by friends and family, Burchetta said. His father, from Paradise, Calif., was in the Aspen area when his son was found, he said.
Montoya's father first reported him missing about 8:50 p.m. Sunday when Montoya didn't return from his solo climb, according to the sheriff's office.