Backcountry is crowded but people are being safe
By Mark Reaman
Seeing how much the local backcountry is being used by campers, especially on weekends, you might think that the local search and rescue teams, in our case the Crested Butte Mountain Rescue Team, would be busy. But this summer so far, the numbers are not rising.
“Since June 1, CBMRT has responded to seven callouts and fielded several calls for overdue parties that did not result in a CBMRT response. The calls have been pretty bread-and-butter, ranging from injuries due to mountain bike and motor dirt bike crashes, an allergic reaction from a bee sting and an overdue party hiking from Crested Butte to Aspen,” said CBMRT president Randy Felix. “A drive up any drainage paints an interesting picture of overcrowding and high visitor numbers. The backcountry is crowded. The increased users have not meant an increase in SAR callouts. We are having a very average summer season.”
While last year at this time the rescue team had used the regional helicopter several times to help fly out those who were injured, this summer the helicopter has been called into action just once in the area.
“This summer, CBMRT has used CareFlight only one time for a search assist for two overdue ladies hiking to Aspen. Search and rescue call volume seems to be a roll of the dice,” said Felix. “Increased users have not necessarily translated into increased call volume. I think the lack of accessible 14ers really helps to keep the SAR numbers down around Crested Butte in the summer.”
Felix said he has spoken to his counterpart in Aspen and that team seems pretty mellow this summer as well. “They have reported 15 callouts and are reporting a slower summer season as well,” he said. “Typically, they see quite a few calls from climbers on the Maroon Bells. This year, according to Aspen MRT, parking at the Maroon Bells trailhead is limited and done with an online permit, thus limiting the number of climbers.
“They are, however, reporting heavy users with a similar overcrowding issue in the backcountry,” Felix continued. “On the recent mission for the two lost women heading to Aspen, Aspen MRT assisted in the search from their side and reported more than 50 tents between the trailhead and the top of West Maroon Pass!”
Felix has been around enough to know things can change quickly with rescues in the area, noting, “Overall, CBMRT is healthy and mission-ready,” he promised. “Information about our team can be found at cbsar.org. CBMRT is an all-volunteer team relying on donations for our sustainability. Search and Rescue never charges for our services. That is the mantra followed by all SAR teams across Colorado and member teams of the Mountain Rescue Association. CBMRT anticipates the callouts to be steady as we roll into late summer and fall.”