Hapless hikers get a hand
July 27, 2005
What began as a normal two-day outing in the Fravert Basin for three local sisters turned into a dramatic tale of backcountry compassion and sure-footed resolve.While on their way home from camping, the sisters – Leanne, Hannah and Paige Elisha, daughters of Nancy and MJ Elisha of Aspen Village – encountered a trio of very lost, and very ill-prepared hikers from Texas.And after talking with them, advising them and helping them dry off and warm up, one of the sisters stayed overnight with the Texas trio, while the other two marched through the night to get help and alert authorities that the hikers were all right.The adventure began early July 24, when the Elishas set out on what has become an annual tradition – a backpacking trip to Fravert Basin, located in the high country between Aspen and Crested Butte. They left their car parked at the lot near Maroon Lake and headed into the high country.The next day, at about 3 p.m., the sisters encountered a man and two women hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen – George, Patty and Rae Chell, all from Texas, though one now lives in Carbondale.
“They said they were lost,” recalled Hannah, 23, who works at the Aspen Institute and is the only sister still living in the valley; Leanne is a paramedic in New York City and Paige is a schoolteacher in North Carolina.”They’d been wandering for quite a while,” she said of the Texas trio, adding that they were dressed in T-shirts, shorts and light shoes. The women, she said, had light rain ponchos, but the man had no rain gear.The hapless hikers said they had been dropped off by a friend close to the tiny mountain hamlet of Gothic, between Crested Butte and Marble. An avalanche had prevented them from being set down at the actual trailhead they were seeking.”So they got lost from the start,” said Hannah. The group also reportedly had left their map on the kitchen table where they were staying.According to Hannah, the sisters and the Texas hikers decided to head down to Maroon Lake as a group; George offered to run ahead to alert authorities and head off any search and rescue effort that might have been started. But shortly after he left, a thunder- and lightning-storm hit, pelting the group with rain and hail.Paige Elisha dropped her pack to sprint ahead, find George and warn him not to cross any passes when lightning was active. George, however, had already started back and the two met up on the trail.
Meanwhile, Hannah and Leanne Elisha set up a tent and everyone huddled in. They dried off and drank hot chocolate to ward off the very real possibility of hypothermia.It was finally decided, once the lightning stopped, that Paige and Leanne would leave behind all but what was absolutely needed to stay warm and dry, and head down to alert family and the authorities that all was well.”They’re a little quicker than I am,” said Hannah, adding that 26-year-old Leanne had been a Mountain Rescue volunteer for a couple of years, and that she and her twin sister Paige knew the trails well enough that they could find their way out even in a storm.”My strong suit was taking care of the people, making sure everybody got dry clothes and a hot meal,” Hannah added.Recounting the hike out, Leanne said that almost immediately after they left camp, at around 7 p.m., their feet were soaked through. But they sang and talked in loud voices to keep up their spirits and scare away any night-roaming predators (Leanne believes she spotted the shining eyes of a mountain lion peering down at them at one point, though she didn’t tell Paige).
Hiking over Fridgedaire and West Maroon passes, they covered the 15 miles in about five hours. Climbing into their car, frozen and exhausted, they drove home, calling the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office on the way.”The deputy I talked to, when I said the group of hikers was OK, said something like, ‘Oh, which group?’ I guess there were a lot of hikers out there last weekend,” said Leanne.The next day, Hannah and the Texas trio hiked out along the same route and were met at the West Maroon trailhead by the husband of one of the Texas hikers, who had driven up from his home in Carbondale.”They were a great group of people,” recalled Hannah, noting that they never despaired and kept a positive attitude even though “it wasn’t a nice night to be out there.”The sisters declined to reveal the last names of the Texas group, and efforts to contact the hapless hikers were not successful.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com