Rescue group responds after climbers hit by falling rocks and snow
Rescue workers responded to a scary incident on Torreys Peak on Sunday morning after a group of climbers were caught in a slide of rocks and snow. Nobody was seriously injured in the incident.
At about 9 a.m. Sunday, June 6, a group of climbers were making their way up the Dead Dog Couloir on the east face of Torreys Peak when they were hit with a mix of falling rocks and snow, according to Dale Atkins, a technical specialist with the Alpine Rescue Team. Luckily, none of the larger rocks collided with any of the climbers.
“There were rocks that came down,” Atkins said. “Some of them were actually a pretty good size, up to several feet in diameter. Fortunately none of those rocks hit anybody. But when you have rocks falling that big it does tend to trigger and knock down snow, and we end up with wet, loose-snow avalanches. …
“This time of year, east-facing slopes get a lot of sun in the morning and heat up very fast. The snow did not freeze (Saturday) night, so it was soft and it was wet from (Saturday’s) rain. It became unstable probably more quickly than what the group was expecting.”
Atkins said the group was training for a bigger climb up a glacier peak in the Pacific Northwest, and he noted the 40-degree slope they were training on was appropriate for those looking to take on bigger challenges. Though, he said the climbers were running late “according to Mother Nature’s clock.”
Rescuers with the Alpine Rescue Team and the Summit County Rescue Group responded alongside Flight for Life helicopters, but upon arrival, members of the party declined medical transport and were able to leave on their own, according to Mike Everist, a mission leader with Alpine Rescue Team. One climber was hit by moving debris and fell a short distance down the slope, according to a report published Sunday afternoon by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Two climbers were struck by rocks and one was injured. The group was able to provide first aid to the injured person.
“Our initial page was for five injured parties, at least two seriously injured and three others with minor injuries, all caught in a rock and snow slide,” Everist said. “That’s why we also asked for help from Summit County Rescue Group and also from Flight for Life. Summit sent I think 10 members our way, which was fantastic. We really appreciate the response from them, but once we got up there … we determined the injuries were actually minor.”
Charles Pitman, spokesperson for the Summit County Rescue Group, said calls for response have been steadily increasing in the area as the county moves out of mud season. He said Sunday’s incident serves as a good reminder that recreationists need to be aware of avalanche danger no matter the time of year, and as more people begin to make their way to Summit’s backcountry this summer, he urged community members to be cautious.
Pitman recommended that all backcountry users carry a GPS device or download a good GPS app on their phone before heading out, noting that many of the rescue group’s calls stem from people losing the trail.
“We get a lot of calls like that,” Pitman said. “That’s especially true because Summit County has a lot of social trails, ones that are not official U.S. Forest Service trails, that people will make their own. Areas that are very heavily used will have instead of one trail that goes from point A to point B, … trails all over the place. If you know them that’s not a problem, but if you’re new to the area, you might not know where to go. … A good mapping program would help solve a lot of those problems so people don’t feel quite so anxious.”
Pitman continued to emphasize that backcountry users should always check the weather before leaving, pack extra food and water, and be realistic about how long they’ll be gone so that family members or friends don’t call for a search and rescue unnecessarily.
“We do take quite a few calls throughout the year from people who are concerned when someone they know was supposed to be back at a certain time and a couple hours later they still haven’t returned,” Pitman said. “Most of the time it’s simply because a two-hour hike turned into a five-hour hike. … Especially when you’re at altitude and you’re not from this area, all of a sudden the hike becomes more strenuous than you thought it would be when you set out earlier in the day. So be realistic, and if it does take you longer, be prepared for the weather changing.”