Hikers delivered from danger in darkness
OFFICER’S GULCH – Mountain rescuers saved two stranded hikers early Thursday, lowering them through the steep ice and rocks of the Tenmile Range in the middle of the night.
Eighteen-year-old David Harper and Edward Greiner, 20, spent more than 36 hours exposed to the elements, pinned on a ridge in the area known as Three Tiers off the Wheeler Trail, just west of Officer’s Gulch along Interstate 70.
According to Summit County Search and Rescue spokesman Dan Burnett, the young men were still “on their feet” when rescuers reached them, and the team had them off the cliff face and out of harm’s way by 1 a.m. Thursday.
Burnett had initially predicted it would take all night to lower the men through the snow and icy talus fields on the west side of the Tenmile Range, but the effort was expedited by the mountaineers’ efficiency at setting up rope belays and safety lines as they broke trail on the way up, he said.
“That saved us numerous hours,” Burnett said. “And the fact that these guys were still standing meant we didn’t have to lower them down in baskets. It goes a lot faster when they’re under their own power. But the really amazing part was the technical prowess showed by the more than 20 people in the field. It really was impressive.”
The hikers’ ordeal began some time Tuesday when the pair set out on the Wheeler Trail from Copper Mountain. According to the rescuers, Harper and Greiner left the trail, crossed some ridges and became trapped after descending a steep face.
Alpinists call the predicament being “cliffed out” – when hikers descend a steep face, only to find themselves unable to continue up or down because of the rigorous terrain.
Harper and Greiner were able get cell phone reception briefly Wednesday morning. They called 911 dispatchers about 10:20 a.m. and had just enough time to describe their situation and general location before the phone battery died.
It took the search and rescue team some time to find the men. Twenty rescuers with binoculars fanned out along the Frisco-to-Copper Mountain rec path, scanning the rock faces with binoculars.
The rescue – which required reinforcements from the Evergreen-based Alpine Search and Rescue Team – took about 14 hours. Harper and Greiner were taken to Summit Medical Center for treatment of possible hypothermia and frostbite.
According to Bev Lilly, a spokeswoman for St. Anthony’s Central Hospital and Centura Health Systems – operators of Summit Medical Center in Frisco – the men were treated and released Thursday morning.
“They’re probably in a world of hurt,” Lilly said. “They’re probably itchy and tingly from the cold, but they have all their fingers and toes.”
Harper and Greiner could not be reached for comment. The two were recent residents of The Edge, Copper Mountain’s employee housing complex, but both have moved out, staff said.
Burnett said the rescue points out classic lessons for wilderness recreationalists.
“If you’re going to go out, tell someone where you’re going,” he said. “It took us hours to figure out where they were.”
Be prepared for any weather, too. Rescuers said Harper and Greiner weren’t dressed properly for the winter conditions that has rolled across the county in the past three days.
Don’t depend on cell phones to save you, either, Burnett said. Cell phone reception is spotty at best in the backcountry, and batteries don’t last forever.
“They worked here, and it probably saved their lives,” Burnett said. “But it’s no substitute for being prepared. Cell phones don’t impress us much in mountain rescue.”