With Labor Day now behind us, many Colorado 14er hikers will be hanging up their hiking boots for the year. The summer hiking season has satisfied their urge to connect with nature while challenging their tired legs to again carry them up to the summit of one of Colorado’s 58 14,000 foot peaks. This is also a good time to express our gratitude to a tireless group of volunteers on our various Search and Rescue (SAR) teams across the state.
Summer hiking season in Colorado represents the busy season for our SAR teams. Alpine Rescue Team, the SAR team that gets the calls for the most popular peaks in close proximity to Denver, has conducted 99 missions so far in 2015 with 80 of those occurring between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This year’s missions for Alpine Rescue Team and other SAR teams have varied from searching for lost/overdue hikers, assisting injured hikers off of numerous peaks including Crestone Peak, Maroon Bells and Snowmass Mountain, taking snowshoes to an early season hiker on Mt. Princeton who became stranded up high in the softening snow, assisting the hikers struck by lightning on Mt. Bierstadt, and unfortunately recovering the bodies of fallen climbers on Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak and Mt. Yale.
My wife (Melissa), my father and I know firsthand how dedicated and talented our SAR teams are having put ourselves in a position to require a rescue back in 2001. We became lost and disoriented in a late-spring blizzard on Mt. Evan after summiting from Guanella Pass on May 20, 2001, making a number of compounding mistakes along the way. Those mistakes culminated in us stranded overnight in the Guanella Pass willows, soaking wet, with the temperature dropping to 10 degrees. My mistakes that day and our lack of preparedness to spend a cold night out cost Melissa eight of her toes to frostbite. Alpine Rescue Team came to our aid the morning of May 21st and evacuated Melissa and my father off of the mountain with the Flight for Life helicopter since they were both unable to walk.
I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to all the men and women who volunteer their time and talents to all of our SAR teams across the state. These people have full-time jobs and families that they leave at the drop of a hat to come to the aid of others. They also sacrifice their free time to train for these missions so that they are ready when the call comes.
Melissa and I wrote a book, Exposed: Tragedy & Triumph in Mountain Climbing that details our accident and many subsequent adventures in the mountains. We have donated every penny we have received to Colorado outdoor non-profits including Alpine Rescue Team and other SAR teams. We hope sharing our story helps others avoid the same mistakes we made while raising money for these groups.
If you haven’t already, be sure your pack contains the 10 essentials (http://www.alpinerescueteam.org/safety-education/10-essentials/) now so you’ll be ready to go for next year and pick up your Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) card (https://www.colorado.gov/dola/colorado-outdoor-recreation-search-and-rescue-corsar-card).
Brad McQueen is an accountant, author and avid mountaineer from Denver, Colorado.