Vail Daily column: Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery an important resource
August 12, 2017
I have driven Red Sandstone Road up to Piney Lake and around to Wolcott countless times. The first left-hand corner after you hit dirt, about a mile up from the asphalt, is not a big, hairy or extreme drive. I see tourists driving it in all kinds of rental cars. When I got a text from a friend asking if I could go help a nonprofit recover a rolled Jeep Cherokee, I didn't think it could possibly be at that corner. Behold, upon our arrival to the scene, there sat the Jeep, at that corner and 30 feet down the hill on its roof.
What do you do if your truck rolls down a 30-foot embankment and becomes perched against a tree upside down on a 60 or more degree incline? First, you get out safely, which these particular occupants did. What then? Search and Rescue isn't equipped to roll over that Jeep and pull it up the hill. Fire trucks can't position themselves properly on most jeeping trails, and even with the turnaround at that corner on Red Sandstone, it would be a tight fit for a fire truck. Big Steve's Towing has a flat bed that could probably pull it up, but his operation has limits, just like the fire department.
Now imagine if this accident happened in a more remote area on Holy Cross or Red and White. What if you were coming down from Webster or Red Cone and you got pinned in the gully or rolled and didn't have a crew of friends with winches and know-how?
The answers to those questions are what prompted the phone call I received last week.
Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery is a statewide nonprofit staffed by volunteers to help rescue and/or recover vehicles in the backcountry. Jeeps, trucks, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles — it doesn't matter the vehicle. What's more, this organization doesn't charge for the help it provides. Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery is a 501c3, and it gladly accepts donations, support and volunteers.
It has also created a club-like atmosphere, with nearly 100 dues-paying members in fewer than six months, several hundred volunteers and nearly 5,000 followers on social media. Anyone who isn't proficient with winches, recovery or HAM radios but does want to learn can sign up for a membership and will receive one free training class. After becoming a member and paying dues, you can take as many classes as you like. As you develop your skills, you can respond on calls and assist with traffic control and communications while learning and observing the execution of recovery skills.
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Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery does not provide medical assistance, but it is working on growing its network of relationships with local search and rescue groups. They are testing their model with some search-and-rescue groups now and Eagle County Search and Rescue is on their short list for expansion.
So what happened with that Cherokee on Red Sandstone? Apparently, they were driving down from Piney in the morning in a rainstorm. They were driving slowly, and when they approached the bottom corner, it was covered in a puddle the size of Lake Michigan. The front tire hit an unseen rock, which unloaded the suspension and skipped the front end toward the embankment. The mud was slick, and even with off-road driving experience, the driver was unable to avoid sliding off the road and down the hill.
The passengers were uninjured and walked away. Fortunately, the driver is an avid off-road driver and knew about Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery. He contacted them with a request for help. Logistics and communication are some of the most critical pieces to any operation; running rope and winches across Red Sandstone on a Sunday afternoon is no exception. Just as the first lines were connected to the Cherokee, we found out that there was a wedding party up at Piney that afternoon and decided to cancel the operation and reschedule for another day, in conjunction with the ranch and local law enforcement.
I hope anyone reading this will make a note of the Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery's contact information to donate or volunteer to help grow its network. If you are driving in the backcountry, then keep the contact information handy in case you have need of their assistance. They are on Facebook and also have a website: http://www.co4x4rnr.org for more detailed information.
Matt Solomon is an Eagle resident.