Snowmobilers survive cold night in backcountry outside Rifle
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colo. – Three stranded snowmobilers and seven others are safe after spending a night out in subzero temperatures in an area north of Rifle Sunday.
The stranded riders and a makeshift rescue crew of family members and friends made their way out of the backcountry about 7 a.m. Monday, uninjured, but extremely cold, according to Lanny Grant with Garfield County Search and Rescue Inc.
“Everyone is OK,” he said.
Grant said some of the individuals suffered from exposure to the elements, but none reported serious injuries that required hospitalization.
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According to Grant, Jason Webster, 30, his girlfriend, and a teenage girl presumed to be the woman’s daughter became stranded at midday Sunday after one of their snowmobiles became stuck in an area known as Deep Creek.
Deep Creek is north of Rifle between the areas of Triangle Park and Meadow Lake on the Flattops region. Grant said rescuers believe the group attempted to take a shortcut through the area but got stuck in Deep Creek after one of the snowmobiles broke through the ice of the creek.
“They were in an upper part of the canyon, but it’s a difficult area to be in,” Grant said.
A friend of the stranded riders notified Search and Rescue about 4 p.m. Sunday that the riders were overdue, Grant said.
Coincidentally, Garfield County Search and Rescue Inc. were performing snowmobile training for members Sunday in conjunction with a local snowmobile club event. So, the crew was already out and prepared to search.
“We were just leaving the trailhead at about dusk when someone approached us and told us about the situation,” Grant said.
Two other riders became involved with the original three stranded riders, Grant said, after Webster went for help in the afternoon.
“They thought the best thing to do was to build a fire and stay put,” Grant said.
With limited information, Search and Rescue teams assembled and began searching shortly after 4 p.m. Operations were suspended about 10 p.m. because the temperatures were dropping to near zero, and the team of about 10 Search and Rescue personnel had already been searching for hours with no luck.
At about 10:30 p.m., another group of five family members and friends showed up; they were encouraged by Search and Rescue personnel to wait until morning to continue the search rather than go out in the dark.
“After we had more accurate information, we knew where they were but it was not a safe area to respond to after dark,” Grant said. “We were going to set out again at first light.”
However, Grant said the team took off on snowmobiles to try and find the stranded riders at about 2 a.m. Monday.
“We had a conversation with the people to not go in until first light,” Grant said. “But, you can’t stop them.”
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