Texas couple saved on Quandary Peak after 13-hour rescue operation
The Summit County Rescue Group saved two stranded hikers on Quandary Peak with an effort that took more than 13 hours, starting Friday afternoon and continuing into early Saturday morning.
The rescue team was notified of two hikers unable to ascend or descend from an elevation of 13,800 feet at 2:18 p.m. Friday, according to the rescue group.
The pair, a 26-year-old woman and 31-year-old man, both from Texas, were reportedly planning on hiking Quandary Peak’s most traveled route, the East Ridge Trail, when they ran into problems.
The couple was unfamiliar with the area and drove to the end of Blue Lakes Road, where they got on the trail that leads to the much more technical West Ridge, not the East Ridge, according to the rescue group.
They started the hike at about 7 a.m. and had a rough idea of how long the trip should take. They were unprepared for deteriorating weather conditions, howver, and as they ascended the ridgeline, dropping temperatures and snowfall caused them to reassess their plans.
The couple decided to retreat down the mountain about 800 vertical feet short of the summit. During this descent, snowfall caused the hikers to drift off the trail and they got stuck in a series of cliff bands.
The first technical response team, tasked with hiking up the West Ridge, was unable to quickly locate the party, according to the rescue group.
Because of concerns over daylight and the potential for increasingly deteriorating weather, Flight for Life was requested for a reconnaissance flight. The helicopter found the hikers at 4:47 pm.
The hikers were in a precarious location, and the team struggled to tell whether the best way to reach them would be from below or above the couple.
As a precautionary move, Flight for Life took another rescue team of two climbers and associated climbing gear to the saddle on Quandary Peak’s East Ridge at about 13,000 feet.
This team proceeded to the summit and started down the West Ridge, intercepting the ascending West Ridge team at around 7 p.m. They found the stranded party about five minutes later.
Team members then descended to the hikers, setting hand lines for their climb back up to a safer location, and for an eventual hike out.
In making contact with the party, the rescuers saw the hikers were showing signs of the initial stages of hypothermia. Thus, the rescue team’s first priority was to warm the pair for the hike out before actually getting them back to the main trail.
During this initial phase of getting the hikers to a safer position, another snowstorm complicated matters as it moved through the area, along with thunder, lightning and wind, greatly increasing the challenges that the rescue teams faced bringing the hikers to safety, all on an exposed ridgeline.
The stranded party was not back on the West Ridge Trail until 9:40 pm, at which time all team members and the hikers started the hike down the ridge and back to mission command.
All personnel were out of the field at 2:15 am Saturday morning.
“We often find that hikers from outside the Rocky Mountain area are surprised at how quickly the weather conditions can change,” said Charles Pitman, spokesman for the Summit County Rescue Group. “In this case, the weather was overcast and chilly in the morning, with occasional showers, but the significant deterioration to the snow storm was unpredicted. As a rescue team, we can’t overstate the necessity of being prepared for such conditions during summer hikes.”
Eighteen members from the Summit County Rescue Group responded to the call. Weather in the area of the operation was generally overcast with light to heavy rain and sleet and snow, gusty winds and temperatures down to the 30s.
“Although this weather change wasn’t what I’d call normal, it certainly was not unprecedented,” Pitman continued. “In many ways these hikers were very fortunate. Their unfamiliarity with the location of the intended hiking route, the technical nature of the route they eventually chose, not having cold weather clothing, all mixed with the weather changes could have had even more serious consequences. Rescuers said that both hikers worked well with the team in order help extricate themselves from the situation.”
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With “hands-on” off-limits as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the United States, Colorado and Pitkin County, emergency first-responders are having to tweak the traditional ways they go about doing their jobs.