Hikers finding themselves in a quandary on Colorado fourteener
July 25, 2009
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Four rescue operations from Mount Quandary have occurred in the past week, setting the pace for another busy year for the volunteer Summit County Rescue group.
“I don’t know why there’s this explosion on Quandary,” said Anna DeBattiste, the group’s public information officer. “If we continue on this pace through August and September, we’ll have another epidemic up there this year.”
In 2008, the group received nine Quandary calls, surpassing 2007 when only four occurred.
“I’ve been on the team since 2003, and we never ran more than two to four calls per year on Quandary until 2008,” she said in an e-mail.
The fifth and latest call this year happened Thursday when two Denver men, aged 37 and 48, became “cliffed out” on the mountain’s west side.
“They tried to traverse, tried to go up, tried to go down, and finally ended up ‘cliffed out,’ which means they were in such a technical area that they could neither go up nor down,” DeBattiste said.
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They got stuck in the morning and were on the side of the 14,265-foot mountain until nearly midnight. The men – one of whom had never hiked a Fourteener – had planned to climb the west ridge route and descend Cristo Couloir on the south side.
But they got stuck after leaving the route and finding themselves among 500-1,000 foot cliffs with loose rock.
Fortunately, they had a friend who turned back earlier and was able to call for help once the two contacted him via walkie-talkie.
Eight members of the rescue group were sent to evacuate the men with a 200 foot rappel and a 700 foot fixed line before they were able to walk across a scree field to safety, according to DeBattiste.
Both men were uninjured.
Though guidebooks frequently mention Quandary as one of the easier Fourteeners, the only easy route is along the east ridge, from the Monte Cristo trailhead off County Road 851.
The north side, along McCullough Gulch trail, is easy until it hits Quandary and becomes a technical climb. The south side, though not as difficult as west and north, has nonetheless been the site of serious injury in both winter and summer.
Three recent rescues from the Quandary area occurred between July 17 and 19 . On July 17, a couple of hikers in their 40s, from Atlanta, got lost and spent the night in McCullough Gulch. They were found battered and bruised the next morning after rescue group teams spent the night on the mountain.
A man on July 18 sent a text to his wife asking for help, which led to a rescue group dispatch. But he was later found walking out on his own.
And on July 19, a man fell and injured his knee near some McCullough Gulch waterfalls. The rocky terrain caused the extraction to take five hours and 23 rescuers.
In 2008, a man from Missouri fell from Quandary’s west side and died.
Citizens on the scene have helped the rescue group many times. The hikers who spent the night in McCullough Gulch were discovered by a hiker from the Front Range who guided the group to them.
The rescue group doesn’t charge for its services. The only time charges are involved is if paramedics or helicopters are needed.
“We are funded strictly on donations and grants,” she said.