No judgment, just response
By Mark Reaman
As the local backcountry opened up this summer after a heavy winter, the local search and rescue organizations have gotten busy. The Crested Butte Mountain Rescue Team has been called for several rescues, including some that ended in helicopter evacuations from remote locations.
“We have had a pretty busy July and start to August,” said CBMRT president Randy Felix. “We’ve been called out all over the county, from West Maroon Pass to Deer Creek to Reno Divide. Summer is busy here. The word is out. It is purely a roll of the dice when it comes to predicting the volume of calls. We do know that summer is when we see the largest concentration of backcountry users and with large numbers of people recreating in the backcountry, often time search-and-rescue calls follow.”
As one might expect, most of the calls involve visitors to the valley.
Felix listed a number of excursions.
—”We flew a patient off of Reno Divide with the help of Western State MRT and Crested Butte Fire and EMS. That was an ATV accident on Old Italian Creek Road in mid-July. We were called out to Italian Creek Road, which is just below Old Italian Creek Road for a jeep roll-over. We flew that patient from the bottom of Reno.”
—”We had the patient evac on West Maroon Pass. The team was out until 3:30 a.m. on that call. The visitors arrived to the high country from their low-elevation state of residence and thought it a good idea to immediately hike over from Aspen via West Maroon Pass.
They ignored the fact that the weather report was not good and although moderately prepared, found themselves in trouble with heavy rain and storms and one of the party suffering from moderate hypothermia and altitude sickness. It took many hours to evacuate that patient.”
—”We had an evacuation of a subject on the other side of Italian Creek Road near American Flag Mountain. That was a middle of the night call as well. The subjects got their jeep stuck and one in the party had some health issues, so two hiked out to call for help and one stayed at the jeep. CBMRT went in and evacuated the remaining person.”
—”We had an evac of a hiker with a severe lower extremity injury on 403.”
—”We were called for a kayak incident in July when a kayaker got re-circulated in a hole above the 23-foot falls at Oh Be Joyful. According to his partner who witnessed the event, he hit his head, went unresponsive, floated facedown over the 23-foot falls and was facedown, unresponsive at the bottom of the falls. The partner had to get out of his boat, hike down and when he pulled his friend from the water he said he was blue and not breathing. He did CPR for what he thought was two to five minutes. The injured kayaker started breathing again on his own. By the time SAR made it to the kayakers, they were hiking down the road. The patient was transported to the hospital and released later that day. Amazing!”
—”We assisted people on Deer Creek trail with helping to get their large dog out of the backcountry that was unable to walk due to possible heat exhaustion.”
—”We had a party of four climbers who got off-route and stuck on the West Face of South Maroon Peak. The climbers ranged in age from mid-50s to 75. We ended up having Aspen Mountain Rescue take that call due to access issues on our side. They did a helicopter hoist evacuation for those folks.”
—”We have had numerous calls for overdue parties that turned up without us fielding a team as well.”
Advice for everyone
The calls have involved people caught in surprise circumstances as well as people who were in over their head. “Experience levels have been all over the board,” he said. “The climbers who received a helicopter hoist off of Maroon Peak were all experienced climbers. Some were a victim of circumstance and some may have been exercising questionable judgment. We do not judge, just respond.”
No matter the experience level, Felix has some advice for anyone heading into the local backcountry. “Be prepared for whatever activity you are doing. Have a Plan B if things go south. Make sure someone knows your plan,” he advised. “Don’t set your expectations too high when you first get here. With the increased backcountry use, it is crucial that people pack out all trash, don’t create new trails, obey backcountry signage and practice Leave No Trace principles.”
Helping the team
Felix said the team has around 40 members on the roster, with a core of 15 or so who are very consistent. Fall can be a busy time as well with hunting season and people in the backcountry, but he said there are no volume expectations. “We will continue to train and be ready for any backcountry emergency,” he said.
Felix said people could best support the team by making a financial donation. Donations can be made directly on the Facebook page or to P.O. Box 485. “We rely primarily on donations from the public for our existence,” he explained. “We are a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. Donations, fundraising events like the Banff Mountain Film Festival and grant writing are our primary funding sources. We have an amazing community and have received generous support over the years from our locals, part-time residents and visitors.” Felix said the donations go toward funding outside training opportunities and helping with operating expenses and capital expenses such as replacing vehicles and snowmobiles.