Skier hurts leg, spends snowy night on backside of Ruby Peak

Helicopter, skis, snowmobiles, toboggans, ATVs

 by Mark Reaman

A 27-year-old Mt. Crested Butte man was the subject of a major search and rescue mission off of Ruby Peak on Friday and Saturday, April 25-26.

The man, whose name has not been released, was skiing Friday afternoon with two friends when he injured his lower leg. He was not able to ski or walk out. So one of the friends hiked up to get cell service and notified Crested Butte Search and Rescue (SAR) about the situation around 2:15 p.m. While explaining the victim was on the west side of Ruby and trying to get to Horse Ranch Park, the caller did not leave specific coordinates.

SAR gathered five team members to respond to the incident. Incident commander Ric Ems said the crew travelled through snow and mud by snowmobile over Kebler Pass to Horse Ranch Park.

“We didn’t have a specific location but figured since the person who called said the victim was ‘butt scooting’ to Horse Ranch Park they were locals,” explained Ems. “We also felt there was a sense of urgency to the situation since it sounded like the reporting party was heading back to the scene. We left a message with him and when he got it, he returned to the Movie Cabin at Irwin to help fill in some details. On top of that, it was dumping up there.”

So while assembling a team to head into the field, SAR called in a helicopter from Montrose with the idea to pick up a member of the SAR team and see if they could spot the injured skier. During that reconnaissance flight, they did indeed see the two remaining skiers and they marked the coordinates. But the weather was starting to come in again and due to safety concerns the helicopter pilot returned to Horse Ranch Park, picked up his flight crew and headed back to Montrose at about 6:15 p.m.

At this point, four members of the SAR team, along with the skier who reported the incident, headed toward the injured skier on the flank of Ruby. It was getting dark and the team reached the two skiers, who had been out there all day with minimal food, water and winter clothing, about 10 p.m. They were about two-thirds of the way down Ruby and the injured skier had “butt-scooted” about a mile.

“The victim and his buddy were pretty excited to see the team get there,” said Ems. “But given the conditions and the lateness, the decision was made to keep two SAR members with the patient and extricate him in the morning. So the other two SAR team members and the two other skiers came out. They got back to Crested Butte about 2:30 in the morning.”

The remaining team had a tent, sleeping bags and food to get through the night. (See sidebar story.) “They augured in for the evening with plenty of water and food and one of the team members was a paramedic,” said Ems.

Ems said the Western State Colorado University Search and Rescue team was put on standby Friday as part of the mission. Both teams started getting ready for the rescue at about 4 a.m. and were back at Horse Ranch Park at about 7:30. The WSCU team has a four-wheeler ATV vehicle on tracks instead of wheels. Ems said that piece of machinery came in handy getting the victim out.

A five-person hasty team skied up Ruby and got to the site of the overnight about 9:45 a.m. They packaged up the victim and put him in a portable toboggan. They got him to the bottom of a ravine and then had two places where they needed to use ropes to get him to a ridge above Horse Ranch Park.

A second team had set up a “rope-up haul system” before the first team arrived. From the ridge, the crew skied him down to the mud-line and then dragged the toboggan through the squishy spring mud to the Horse Ranch Park trailhead.

He was then hooked into the Western ATV that took him to the Kebler trailhead, where he was transported by ambulance to the Gunnison Valley Hospital. There, he was evaluated for further treatment.

Ems said the Crested Butte and WSCU search and rescue teams worked together seamlessly. He did ask anyone that uses the backcountry to buy a fishing, hunting or hiking license. Some of the money that is paid for the license goes to search and rescue teams that help rescue lost or injured backcountry users. While the funds won’t help pay for a helicopter, the fund will help pay some ground costs and for some of the equipment for the non-profit organizations.

“We really could use that sort of public support,” said Ems.

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