Snowmass history: A New Year’s Rescue |

Snowmass history: A New Year’s Rescue

A black and white film negative of Snowmass Lake, with Mount Hagerman in the background, in the winter.
Aspen Historical Society |

“Medical data gained from ski rescue,” The Aspen Times reported Jan. 8, 1959. “A medical discovery of real importance to mountain-climbers may have been made here last week, when a cross-country skier had to be brought out of the mountains by a group of Aspen skiers. Ron Cox, 21, a chemistry major at the University of Colorado, became ill on a cross-country ski trip and spent more than 24 hours in a tent near Snowmass Lake in temperatures which sometimes went as low as 30 below before his companion, Pay Caywood, could get out to alert a team of rescuers. According to Dr. Charles Houston, an alpinist and leader of the 1953 expedition to K2, who went in with the rescue party, it was first thought that Cox was suffering from pneumonia, the bane of high altitude, cold weather climbers. However, he said that he thought further study would prove that Cox, an athlete with a normal heart, suffered from a peculiar heart trouble connected with the altitude. Dr. Houston said that normally climbers with this trouble aren’t seen in hospitals where complete cardiogram and x-ray study can be run and pneumonia was often the general diagnosis and that this case would receive much attention from the medical world.” His companion, Caywood, wrapped him in sleeping bags after they had crossed over Buckskin pass and he developed a “near paralyzing sickness” and then headed out in search of help. Arriving in Snowmass on New Year’s Eve, he contacted Dr. Houston, who then organized a group consisting of Ken Moore, Tommy Thomas, Dick Wright, Bill Mason, March Barnard, Dick Durrance, Bob Craig and Norman Foote. They set out from Bill Janss’ Brush Creek Ranch on a weasel he leant them, driven by Foote, until they had to set out by skis. They then loaded Cox into a toboggan and towed him back down.