Expect the unexpected on High Country hikes | VailDaily.com

Expect the unexpected on High Country hikes

Veronica Whitney
Melinda Kruse/Vail DailyThe Eagle River flows through a canopy of trees as wildflowers bloom in front of the Gore Range.

EAGLE COUNTY” In the past weeks, several hiking trips had unexpected outcomes: a local man who was an experience hiker died and two women got lost and spent nights in the wilderness.

Though people don’t expect to get lost or hurt when they go on a hike, this happens often, said Bob Armour, a coordinator for Vail Mountain Rescue. In fact, the last month has been busier than normal for local rescue workers, Armour said.

“We’ve had a lot of lost hikers. We’ve had eight calls in the last two weeks for lost hikers, most of them in the Holy Cross Wilderness,” Armour said. “We’ve had people taking the wrong trails and not being prepared ” that means carrying a map and a compass.

“Nobody ever plans to get lost,” Armour added. “The truth is you can get lost or twist an ankle and the hike could change completely.”

That’s what happened to two women two weeks ago.

On Aug. 30, Eileen Leland, 57, of New Castle, was hiking on the East Lake Creek trail south of Edwards with her husband and friends when she got lost. Rescue workers found her two days later.

Leland, who survived on a single energy bar, was preparing for a third night outdoors when a helicopter rescued her near Middle Lake.

Days later, a Durango woman hiked herself out of the Holy Cross trail after getting lost there and spending the night in the wilderness. Police described the woman, who had also been hiking with a group, as an experienced hiker who had food and water.

“Not getting lost is something we take for granted,” said Mike Kloser, Beaver Creek activities director and an adventure race competitor.

“Most likely it would be a situation when the weather goes bad, then it’s easier for people to get lost.”

There are some things people can do to prevent getting lost or, in case they get disoriented or hurt, survive in the wilderness.

“Take a whistle ” it’s the best thing to carry to get somebody’s attention,” said Armour, a volunteer with Vail Mountain Rescue for 16 years. “A whistle could have helped us find Eileen Leland sooner.

She said she could hear our whistles but we couldn’t hear her.”

Another thing that could have helped Leland was having a space blanket, Armour said.

“The space blanket not only will keep you warm, but because it’s metallic it can be used to signal people,” Armour said. “And it’s very light, it weights ounces.”

If a hiker is planning to get off the trails and deeper into the wilderness, Kloser recommends knowing how to use and taking the proper tools: a map and a compass.

Even on what seems to be a short, easy hike, Armour recommends hikers take extra layers of clothes.

“f you’re caught out in the field overnight, it will get colder so it’s advisable to get extra layers of clothing,” he said. “And take plenty of food and water when you head to longer hikes. The longer the hike, the more equipment you should take. For more extended hikes, consider taking a day pack.”

Hikers also shouldn’t underestimate potential risks because a hike is short and easy, Armour said.

Leland was part of a hiking club outing and was on an intermediate trail when she became separated from the group and took a wrong turn on the Dead Dog Trail, which branches off from the East Lake Creek Trail.

“It doesn’t need to be a remote area,” Armour said. “East Lake Creek is a well-traveled and well-explored trail.

“We’ve got to remember we’re going for a hike in the wilderness, an area with many variables including terrain and weather. And you have to be prepared for anything,” he added.

As little as a cell phone could also help a lost hiker, Kloser and Armour said.

“Cell phones have helped lost hikers and rescuers recently,” Armour said. “I’m amazed how cell phones are working in more areas now.

“The other day, we were able to guide somebody down the Holy Cross Wilderness on a telephone call,” he added. “What makes this possible is that a lot of our people are familiar with the area and they can tell right away where a lost person is.”

But Armour recommends people don’t leave their cell phones on while they hike.

“Leave it off so in the case of an emergency you have battery power,” he said.

Those who want to get more high tech can carry a global positioning system, or GPS, a worldwide radio-navigation system.

“But of course you need to know how to use it,” Armour said.

Then, there are the freak accidents, too. And they happen.

On Sept. 4, Jiri “Jura” Brazdil, 29, of Avon, died after a fall while hiking in the Grand Traverse, which forks off the Bighorn Creek trail near East Vail.

Brazdil, who was hiking with his wife of two months, Valisa Higman, and Ed Chipman, his boss and friend, was standing on a rock waiting for the others when it gave way, sending him over a cliff and down 150 feet. He died before rescue workers could get to him.

In that incident, even Brazdil’s vast experience hiking and climbing ” he was an avid scaler of Colorado’s fourteeners ” couldn’t help.

His wife and Chipman described his fall as a “freak accident.”

“We’ve been doing this for years and there’s always a risk,” Chipman said. “But it was a freak slip. We wouldn’t have done anything different.”

Armour agreed that Brazdil’s fall was a freak accident.

“Accidents can happen anywhere,” he said. “The big issue is human error and injuries. The No. 1 rule is never go out alone.”

Staff writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

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