Stranded snowmobilers hiked out for eight hours
February 20, 2002
Seven snowmobilers and two rescue workers walked nearly eight hours through snow-covered backcountry terrain Monday night before they were shuttled back to civilization.
The nine travelers had to abandon their snowmobiles in a steep canyon on Red Table Mountain and hoof it out.
Other snowmobilers from West Eagle Search and Rescue waited in the Upper Cattle Creek drainage and hauled them to a cabin to warm up and, ultimately, to their vehicles at the Basalt Mountain trailhead in Missouri Heights.
All the stranded snowmobilers reached the trailhead by 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Eagle County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Loya. None required medical attention.
Loya said one of the stranded rescue workers told him they spent eight hours walking.
The nine snowmobilers became stranded at roughly the same spot in three different groups. The original group of four snowmobilers was making a huge counter-clockwise loop back to Basalt Mountain Sunday afternoon via Red Table Mountain when they got stuck in a canyon.
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Ralph Gunning, a member of the group, said deep snow, steep canyon walls and dead, fallen trees made travel impossible.
“It’s just the worst place you ever want to be,” he said, noting it was not the drainage they intended to go down.
The stranded group included Larry Madden and Jim Gohery, both of Aspen, and Bob Jackson of Basalt.
The men built a fire and braved the elements Sunday night with no trouble, Gunning said. They are all experienced backcountry travelers.
On Monday morning, they used winches, shovels and boot-packing to slowly move their snowmobiles along, to little avail.
Meanwhile, three other snowmobilers launched their own search-and-rescue operation from Basalt Mountain when they discovered Monday morning that their friends hadn’t returned. Authorities identified them as Chris Cohen, George MacDonald and Janet Gohery.
The West Eagle Search and Rescue was also notified of the overdue snowmobilers later that morning and mobilized a team of six at 11 a.m.
The three friends eventually found the original group of four but they also became stuck and stranded.
The search-and-rescue team reported to deputies and rescue workers in the valley floor that they spotted footprints going into Yeoman Creek drainage at about 4 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Rick Holub and Cleve Williams, two members of the search team, followed the tracks into the canyon while others stayed
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behind. The rescue-team members found the stranded snowmobilers but they, too, became stuck, according to Dave Lawson, a spokesman for West Eagle Search and Rescue.
Williams and Holub essentially sacrificed their personal sleds to make sure all members of the group were safe, Lawson said.
Gunning said there is no way the snowmobiles can be moved by land.
“They’re going to be there a while – until we can get a helicopter,” he said.
Gunning said one of the three snowmobilers who went looking for his group Monday headed off on his own after they became stranded. That man was identified by authorities as MacDonald. He walked out on his own and hooked up with rescuers at about 9:30 p.m. Monday.
The four snowmobilers in the original group stuck together the whole time, Gunning said. Those four, plus two friends and the two rescue workers, walked for several hours before they decided to make camp Monday night, according to Gunning.
Through radio contact with other rescue workers, they realized they weren’t that far from Cattle Creek and broke camp at 10 p.m. A couple of hours later they saw the lights of the rescue team’s snowmobiles and reached them in a swampy portion of Cattle Creek at midnight, according to Gunning and Lawson.
Light snow was falling off and on during their walk out.
After warming up briefly at a backcountry cabin that search and rescue received permission to use, the snowmobilers were shuttled to their vehicles at the trailhead.
While the stranded snowmobilers were in the process of a self-rescue, the assistance of the search-and-rescue team shortened their walk considerably. The snowmobile ride from the cabin to the trailhead was 20 minutes alone. On foot it would have been much longer.