Mountain Rescue has busy November
December 5, 2016
EAGLE COUNTY — To date in 2016, Vail Mountain Rescue Group has been called out more than 119 times, and has fielded rescuers on more than 100 missions. Below are summaries of two of the team's most significant missions during the month of November.
A climbing fall
Shortly after 5 p.m. on Nov. 3, a hiker who had been day-hiking to North Traverse Peak in the Gore Range called 911 to report that he had fallen on snow and ice and was stuck on a cliff ledge. Without equipment to ascend or descend, the hiker, who was uninjured but extremely fatigued and not prepared to spend a night outdoors, requested assistance.
A Vail Mountain Rescue Group mission coordinator contacted the subject to evaluate his condition and location, and provided survival instructions while he awaited rescue. The coordinator then requested a Flight For Life Colorado helicopter to overfly the area with night vision goggles and verify the subject's location. With that information, a rescue group ground team of four volunteers left the East Vail trailhead and hiked through the night to the base of North Traverse Peak to be in position to attempt a rescue at sunrise. From the basin below the hiker, the ground team was able to spot a light from the subject's cell phone, establish voice contact, and evaluate technical terrain to access the patient.
Just after dawn the next day, a Blackhawk helicopter from the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (HAATS) in Gypsum transported a rescue group hoist team to the subject's location. Hovering above the cliff, the HAATS crew lowered a rescuer, via hoist, to the subject, then lifted the pair into the helicopter. After extracting the ground team, HAATS transported the rescuers and hiker to Freedom Park in Edwards. The patient was treated for hypothermia and transported to Vail Valley Medical Center. All rescuers were safely out of the field by 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 4.
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On the morning of Nov. 22, Vail Dispatch was contacted by relatives of two teenaged climbers from Colorado Springs who were overdue after summiting Mount of the Holy Cross the previous night. At 7 p.m. on Nov. 21, the climbers had called home from the summit to report that they were safe but exhausted after ascending the Cross Couloir, and were about to descend to a gear cache lower on the mountain where they planned to wait out a worsening winter storm. When the pair had not checked in by Tuesday morning and attempts to reach the climbers via cell phone had failed, their parents called for help. Although both were experienced mountaineers, carrying only climbing gear and some food and water in their day packs, they were not equipped for the whiteout conditions they encountered on their descent.
Vail Mountain Rescue Group dispatched two teams of rescuers, who ascended to treeline up the Half Moon Pass and Cross Creek trails and searched in knee-deep snow until dark but found no sign of the missing climbers. On the morning of Nov. 23, with assistance from five other mountain rescue teams and air support from three agencies, Vail Mountain Rescue Group coordinated a massive mutual aid search, fielding seven teams of 35 rescuers to several landing zones around and below the mountain's summit. Later that afternoon, a ground team reported that they had spotted fresh tracks in the snow leading to Harvey Lake, a remote area 4,000 feet below and miles away from the summit. A fixed-wing aerial reconnaissance aircraft operated by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control used remote sensing equipment to spot the tracks and plot a likely path to the teens. With those coordinates, a HAATS Blackhawk helicopter overflew the area and spotted the lost climbers. Unable to land in the mountainous terrain, the HAATS crew lowered a jungle penetrator (an anchor-shaped rescue seat attached to a cable) down to the subjects, hoisted them into the aircraft, then flew them to a staging area in Freedom Park in Edwards. After being treated for hypothermia and frostbite, the climbers were transported to Vail Valley Medical Center. All rescuers were safely out of the field by 4 p.m. on Nov. 23.
Thanks to all of the resources that participated in one or more of these rescues, including Alpine Mountain Rescue, Aspen Mountain Rescue, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control, Colorado Flight for Life, Eagle County Paramedic Services, Eagle County Sheriff's Office, Flight for Life Colorado, Garfield County Search & Rescue, HAATS, Rocky Mountain Rescue, the Salvation Army, Summit County Mountain Rescue, Vail Public Safety Communications Center, Vail Valley Medical Center, and the volunteer members of Vail Mountain Rescue Group.
Vail Mountain Rescue Group is an all-volunteer organization based in Edwards that does not charge for the services it provides and does not receive any direct government funding to support its operations. On Colorado Gives Day (today), the team seeks to raise $25,000, kick-starting a $125,000 fundraising campaign for the purchase of a new light-duty rescue vehicle to replace equipment that soon will need to be retired. Donate at coloradogives.org/EagleCountyGives/VailMountainRescueGroup.