Mountain Rescue Aspen, Blackhawk rescue climber stranded near Capitol Peak
A team of Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers with the aid of a Blackhawk helicopter brought an Iowa man to safety Tuesday after he became stranded near Capitol Peak, according to a statement issued Wednesday morning.
The rescue came after Pitkin County Regional Emergency Dispatch Center received a 911 call from the climber at approximately 4:30 p.m. that he was stuck near Capitol Peak and needed assistance.
Eric Millers of Iowa City reported that he had ventured off-route on the descent from Capitol Peak to Capitol Lake and could not descend or ascend.
Millers said he didn’t have any injuries that would prevent him from climbing, but due to his fatigue and dehydration, he felt the climb back up to the established route was too dangerous to attempt. He later told rescuers that he and his partner separated after they disagreed over which route to take. Millers opted for the shortcut while his partner continued on the established route between Capitol Peak and Capitol Lake, according to the news release. Millers’ climbing partner would safely reach Capitol Lake.
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Meanwhile, about 20 MRA members began to mobilize in order to attempt to rescue Millers. A Blackhawk helicopter from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Training Site in Gypsum was called in to assist in the rescue.
A two-person team of hoist rescue specialists from MRA boarded the Blackhawk helicopter at the Aspen airport, which was manned by four members of the military. At the same time, a four-person foot team of Mountain Rescue Aspen climbers began to hike toward Capitol Peak in the event that the Blackhawk helicopter would not be able to reach Millers.
The Blackhawk, aided by a large arrow made of rocks on the ground and pointing toward Millers’ location, found Millers at approximately 6:40 p.m. Millers was well off the established route between Capitol Peak and Capitol Lake. A Mountain Rescue Aspen climber was then lowered via hoist from the hovering Blackhawk helicopter to Millers. Millers was not carrying a helmet or harness, so the Mountain Rescue Aspen climber fitted Millers with a helmet and harness and assisted him in being hoisted up to the Blackhawk.
Capitol Peak is a mountain with an elevation of 14,137 feet in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area approximately 14 miles west of Aspen. Capitol Peak is considered a difficult mountain to climb with numerous exposures and loose, crumbling rock.
The statement reminded climbers to stay on their course while in the backcountry.
“The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Mountain Rescue Aspen would like to remind backcountry enthusiasts to stay with their climbing and hiking partners when in the backcountry,” it states. “No matter how enticing a shortcut may appear, those in the backcountry are strongly advised to remain on the established routes, especially on Capitol Peak. Established routes are established for a reason, as they are usually the safest routes for ascent and descent. All those who venture into the backcountry must be prepared for self-rescue, as there is no guarantee of rescue.”
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Local law enforcement spoke this week with the organizer of two demonstrations against racism this weekend in Aspen following the death of George Floyd to ensure they will be safe.