Teenagers recount two nights lost in wilderness
AURORA — As two teenagers from Colorado Springs reached the summit of the towering Mount of the Holy Cross on Monday night in a severe snowstorm, the reality of their circumstance began to set in.
It was about 7 p.m., hours after they had planned to reach the top of the 14,005-foot peak up a couloir, and the pair — 17 and 18 years old — could not find the ridgeline to descend in the pitch-black night and fierce, freezing winds. They had left their sleeping bags and other gear at a camp far below, down a precarious route through steep, rocky terrain.
The teens phoned their parents to give them a heads-up about the situation and walked down about 400 feet to an overhanging rock where they lay parallel in their coats with their feet in each other’s armpits to keep warm.
“It was just bare survival at that point,” said Tommy Hendricks, a senior at Coronado High School, as he laid in a hospital bed in Aurora. “There’s no way we were going to make it down safely. … Going back down that couloir would have been suicide.”
The scene atop Mount of the Holy Cross in Eagle County kicked off a nearly 48-hour ordeal that eventually ended with the friends’ rescue from a meadow a few miles below. Both escaped without serious injury and are expected to recover from significant frostbite to parts of their hands and feet.
Hendricks and Smith credit their survival to staying confident, while rescuers and their doctor say the pair stayed alive and escaped long-term harm probably because of their preparedness, young age, decision to ration their food and the quick response of medical personnel.