Routt County Search and Rescue spent hours searching for a woman in the area of Buffalo Pass on Friday, July 22, before she was able to self-rescue.
Search and rescue got the call at 12:22 pm Friday with a set of coordinates that were about an hour old. The woman, who had been trying to find her campsite since Thursday, July 21, had called her husband, who then called 911 to pass along the coordinates.
“They were specific for the time she was there,” said Harry Sandler, vice president of Routt County Search and Rescue. “Fortunately, at that point she still had phone battery. I believe her phone died shortly after. Those coordinates were where she was at 11, 11:30 am By the time we got called, she had continued to move. She never stopped moving, which made the search very difficult.”
Sandler helped Incident Commander Doug Klingemann develop a plan despite encountering no clues at the location of the reported coordinates to indicate which direction the missing woman went.
One group of search and rescue volunteers entered Routt National Forest from the Summit Park area off Routt County Road 36, while another went in from Dry Lake Campground towards Gunn Creek drainage.
Sandler said that eventually, search and rescue got better information and put the Summit Park team towards the lower portion of Gunn Creek drainage.
Classic Air Medical spent hours in the air assisting with the search as well.
Sandler said both teams made great time covering ground considered the rough terrain of thick vegetation and downed timber.
Not long before sunset, the teams got word the woman had popped out of the woods onto Routt County Road 38 and was picked up by a passerby.
“By interviewing her and looking at what our team had done, we were on her trail. We were just several hours behind her the whole time because she had never stopped,” Sandler said. “That made things is difficult, and we’re really fortunate that it had a positive outcome.”
It could have made the search more efficient if the missing party had stayed put and followed the acronym STOP — short for stop, think, observe and plan.
Furthermore, if a missing party hears a helicopter, they should do their best to find an open space or ridgeline and get the attention of the helicopter crew. The search also could have been easier or shorter if the hiker reported themselves lost earlier.
Sandler said the missing woman got off trail sometime Thursday around Mt. Ethel while hiking north on the Continental Divide Trail with friends who were thru-hiking. She hiked with them for a bit, then turned around to return to camp, but couldn’t find camp.
Klingemann said he wished more people knew that search and rescue services in Colorado are free. He encourages people to call search and rescue quickly, not after the situation turns bleak.
“There was some initial hesitation with this group that they didn’t want to get a bill,” Sandler explained. “That is why they delayed the initial call for help. Had that call come in a lot sooner, there’s a chance she might not have needed to spend a night and go through the ordeal that she did.”
The call to Buffalo Pass was the first this summer in which search and rescue volunteers had to go out into the field to find a missing person.
Most calls have been for people who needed help getting off a trail due to an injury, including a hurt ankle off Seedhouse Road and a broken leg on Soda Mountain trail.
There have been a few potential search calls from people who knew where the hiker was and when the hiker was expected to return. Fortunately, all those late-returning hikers arrived home before search and rescue needed to take action.
Until the past week and a half, search and rescue has had a quiet summer.
“What we do seem to notice, and there’s no explanation for it, is they get clumped together,” said Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman. “Last November, we had nine calls in seven days during hunting season. Now, we’re experiencing the same thing during the last week and a half.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.