Snowshoers escape large Summit County avalanche |

Snowshoers escape large Summit County avalanche

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vial, CO Colorado
Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily NewsStanding at the staging area at the Peru Creek Trail head Friday, Summit Search and Rescue Group team leader Glenn Kraatz tries to pinpoint the exact location of an avalanche that partially buried a hiker.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Two snowshoers escaped unharmed from an avalanche Friday in the backcountry near Chihuahua Lake, high in the Peru Creek drainage between Keystone and Montezuma.

Dwight Sunwall, of Castle Rock, and Sarah Thompson, of Boulder, were snowshoeing along a ridge near Lenawee Peak after starting their hike at the Peru Creek Trailhead.

Thompson inadvertently broke off a section of cornice that was as “big as a small bus,” said Loveland ski patroller Mike Scott, one of the first rescuers to reach the scene.

The chunk of cornice triggered the slide on the steep slope below. Sunwall said the pair was 20 feet away from the edge of the cornice.

“We knew there were big cornices up there,” Sunwall said.

After checking avalanche conditions, the duo changed their hiking plans to avoid higher risk, he said.

When Thompson fell, Sunwall said he stepped aside as yet another section of the cornice fell away.

Sunwall called 911 from the ridgeline, then started looking for a way to get down to his hiking partner. The first rescuers pulled Thompson from the slide.

She was taken to the Summit Medical Center via helicopter. Scott said Thompson was in good shape, with no apparent injuries. Scott estimated that the slide ran about 1,000 vertical feet.

The Summit Search and Rescue Group, as well as ski patrollers from Arapahoe Basin and Loveland participated in the rescue.

Search and Rescue site commander Joe Ben Slivka said neither snowshoer was wearing an avalanche beacon. Slivka urged backcountry travelers to be prepared with appropriate gear, including beacons, shovels and probes.

“You need to be able to help your friends if something happens,” Slivka said.

According to rescuers reporting from the scene, the slide was about 100 to 200 feet wide and ran several hundred yards down the slope. The debris field ended up piling onto the surface of a frozen lake.

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