Close this search box.
Rescue on Mount Elbert Trail

Midwinter Rescue on Mount Elbert Trail Demonstrates Need for Preparedness

DENVER, COLORADO — In the deep, frozen heart of the Colorado wilderness, a dramatic search and rescue operation unfolded in the early hours of Tuesday, February 6th, highlighting the inherent dangers of winter hiking and the relentless dedication of rescue teams. Lake County Search and Rescue (LCSAR) was alerted to a dire situation: a hiker, cold and exhausted, had taken refuge in a makeshift snow cave at the crossroads of the Continental Divide Trail and the North Mount Elbert Trail.

Faced with a formidable challenge, the rescue operation required a three-mile approach on snowmobiles to reach the North Elbert Trailhead. From there, rescuers embarked on a steep ascent through narrow switchbacks, navigating through treacherous avalanche conditions and breaking trail in the dense midwinter snowpack.

Approximate location of the rescue.

A two-man hasty team from LCSAR reached the distressed hiker at approximately 4:30 AM, immediately initiating efforts to warm him up. Given the hiker’s inability to walk, LCSAR called for mutual aid from their counterparts in Chaffee County Search and Rescue North (CCSARN), setting in motion a remarkable display of inter-agency cooperation.

As dawn approached, SAR members from both Lake and Chaffee Counties converged at the Halfmoon Road winter closure, utilizing snowmobiles to shuttle towards the incident site. After a mile and a half trek, the second team rendezvoused with the hasty team, who had already begun the delicate process of transporting the patient.

Employing a Sked — a specialized stretcher for difficult terrain — the combined rescue teams skillfully maneuvered the patient down the mountain to a waiting snowmobile, ensuring his safe return.

The rescue operation sheds light on the hiker’s perilous journey, which began around 7:00 AM the previous day from the South Elbert Trailhead. After summiting in the mid-afternoon, he lost his way while descending to the treeline, eventually veering off course towards an incorrect trailhead. Struggling through four feet of snow, the hiker’s ordeal culminated in his decision to seek shelter and call for help around midnight.

This incident underscores a recurring theme in winter rescues: the critical importance of proper equipment and familiarity with seasonal conditions. LCSAR extends its gratitude to CCSARN for their swift response and invaluable assistance, reinforcing the spirit of collaboration that defines the search and rescue community.

Safety Tips for Winter Hiking

Here are some lessons learned from the incident:

  • Prepare Appropriately: Always carry and know how to use snowshoes, gaiters, and have appropriate winter footwear.
  • Stay on Trail: Familiarize yourself with your route in advance and use a GPS or a map and compass to navigate in snow conditions.
  • Inform Someone: Always let someone know your plan, including where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Know the Conditions: Check the weather forecast and avalanche risk before you depart.
  • Carry Essential Gear: Bring a headlamp, extra food and water, layers for warmth, and a shelter.
  • Learn Basic Survival Skills: Know how to make a snow shelter and the signs of hypothermia and frostbite.


Remember, the beauty of the wilderness in winter comes with increased risks. Proper preparation and respect for nature’s power are essential for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

Enjoy this Article? Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Join 4,000+ other subscribers and receive mountain news updates, route guides, gear reviews, and other articles in our twice-monthly email newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to The Next Summit!

My mission is to protect peaks and prevent rescues through public education, outreach, and policy advocacy using digital marketing strategies, tools, and tactics.

Click and learn more about our mission, approach and impact. Thanks again for visiting!

Download My Ultimate Dispersed Camping Guide!

Discover twelve of the best spots for dispersed campsites across Colorado, plus tips for a safe and successful adventure by subscribing to my newsletter.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Subscribe and get my free planner with all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Become a subscriber to download my free 14er planner. It lists all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order. Get it now & start planning!