“We will definitely be better prepared in the future”
Crested Butte’s search and rescue team was having one of its slowest years in recent memory, until a flurry of calls came in this past weekend. There were three search and rescue missions initiated between Saturday, September 11 and Monday, September 13, including one for missing Mt. Crested Butte mayor William Buck and local businessman Tom Filchner.
On Saturday, a vehicle was found off the side of Kebler Pass, upside down in the creek with no one inside. Search and Rescue was dispatched, but it turned out the driver had made his way into town. Sunday evening, up at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, a hiker was several hours late returning to his hotel, and SAR was dispatched again, only to find the hiker on a cat track after about 20 minutes of searching.
Just as they were wrapping up the CBMR search Sunday night, another call came in, because William Buck and Tom Filchner had not returned from what was planned as a day hike leaving from Poverty Gulch and into the surrounding mountains. They were said to be hiking Purple Mountain, but that was the only indication of their whereabouts, besides the vehicle parked back in Poverty Gulch.
Search and Rescue could not go out Sunday night, but was able to get a lot of pre-planning done so they could hit the ground running Monday morning, according to Crested Butte SAR president and public information officer Nicholas Kempin. They started the search at 5:30 a.m., investigating the possible routes the duo could have taken up Purple. Then Tom Filchner’s wife received a phone call after noon from her husband, informing her that they were okay, uninjured and on their way out. They called from Oh Be Joyful Pass.
“We had civil air patrol on the way, and we had Western State sending some people up; we were really getting spooled up when those guys called in,” Kempin said.
Tom Filchner said of their objectives that day, “We changed our plans about three times; we had thoughts of climbing Richmond or hiking the ridge. Our alternative plan was off trail and in pretty rough terrain, and it took a whole lot longer than either one of us had envisioned.” They had crossed over Angel Pass into Swan Basin, where there were no trails and travel was arduous. But the two were well prepared.
“Our only problem was worrying about the people that were worried about us,” Filchner said. “We built a big fire and stayed close to it” for warmth. “It would have been really nice to have a sleeping bag and tent, but we didn’t. We took turns stomping through the woods and getting more firewood. We kept asking each other what time it was all night long, and it would be just 15 minutes later.
“We tried the cell phone on every ridge top, but until we got to the top of Oh Be Joyful Pass we didn’t have cell coverage,” Filchner explained. “Fortunately we were prepared, by having water, extra clothing, water purification pills, a lighter, and headlamp.”
Buck echoed Filchner’s sentiments, and explained how the day trip turned into an epic. “I underestimated the distance involved in the trip, and came to the conclusion that one should always be prepared for the unexpected.”
After Filchner’s phone call came in, the SAR mission was called off and the two made their way back to civilization. After 19 hours of hiking and an unexpected night under the stars, Buck and Filchner made it home safe and sound, and all the wiser.
As Filchner said, “I’ve lived here 19 years and done a lot of hikes, but that’s the first time I’ve spent the night out.”
Buck expressed gratitude for the people who mobilized to search for him and Filchner. “I feel bad that we put people out, and will definitely be better prepared in the future. Thank you to all the agencies and individuals for their time and efforts. These are amazing and caring professionals, and it’s great to know they are out there in case you need them.”