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Lost Aspen skiers return to safety

Joel Stonington
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Two backcountry skiers spent Sunday night in the backcountry before emerging at the Difficult Creek Campground looking tired, dirty and a bit sheepish Monday afternoon.

Zeke Tiernan, 32, and Sean Shehan, 38, both of the Aspen area, spent the night by a fire under some trees in the Difficult Creek drainage after becoming disoriented and lost on Richmond Ridge late Sunday.

“We had to just sit by the fire and take turns stoking it,” Tiernan said. “Bottom line: If you don’t have a sleeping bag or a down suit, you’re not going to do well out in the winter.”

The pair were training for the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, a 40-mile backcountry race from Crested Butte to Aspen that begins at midnight March 28 and requires that tandems finish together.

Tiernan said it’s likely they still will do the race, despite the setback.

“Yeah, I think so, though not if my girlfriend has anything to say about it,” said Tiernan. “It was a good training effort.”

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office called out Mountain Rescue Aspen and had eight people searching for the pair by Monday morning.

“We were ready to go full guns after noon,” Pitkin County Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo said. An airplane also looked for the duo and Eagle County Search and Rescue was on stand-by.

Tiernan, a teacher at Aspen Country Day, and Shehan, who works at Pine Creek Cookhouse, left the Ashcroft area early Sunday morning. By midday they had reached Barnard Hut, which is located 8 miles from the Silver Queen Gondola along Richmond Ridge. They decided to return to their car at Ashcroft, roughly 10 miles away, and left the hut for the return trip at 2:15 p.m.

Their plans derailed, however, when a hefty snowstorm rolled into the Aspen area Sunday night and dumped 13 inches on Aspen Mountain.

“We were going the opposite direction we thought we were going; it was such a whiteout,” Tiernan said. “The mountains are fierce in the winter. It just humbles you. It humbles you big time.”

Tiernan said they had a compass but did not have a map and they became lost in the blizzard and decided to bivouac. They had the means to make a fire but didn’t have a tent or sleeping bags.

He said they were able to nod off at times, but the cold kept them awake most of the night. The only things they had to eat were energy bars and gel.

“Our biggest worry was all of our loved ones and their worrying of us,” Tiernan said.

His mom, Aspenite Linda McCarthy, called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to report the duo missing at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Mountain Rescue Aspen sent a snowmobile in to Barnard Hut to see if, perhaps, the two men had spent the night there. It was 9 p.m. when rescuers arrived and found that Tiernan and Shehan had left seven hours earlier.

“That was when we commenced the non-sleeping and crying,” said Tiernan’s girlfriend, Molly Kridell. “It was awful.”

Kridell got a phone call from Tiernan around noon on Monday. Mountain Rescue Aspen had concentrated their search in the Express Creek drainage, where the pair began, but Tiernan and Shehan called to report views of Red Mountain.

“I’m glad they self-rescued because we would never have flown over there,” DiSalvo said. “We never would have gone that far east.”

Tiernan’s sister, Beth Wille, and her husband, Pierre Wille, skied up Difficult Creek at approximately 1 p.m. and quickly met up with Tiernan and Shehan coming down.

“It was a knee-high slog along Difficult with those skinny skis,” Tiernan said.

jstonington@aspentimes.com


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