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Search and Rescue Operation Saves Lost Hiker Near Blanca Peak

In a rescue operation on June 24, Alamosa Volunteer Search and Rescue (AVSAR) saved a lost hiker suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The hiker had strayed off the Little Bear-Blanca Peak Traverse and ended up in Blanca Creek Basin, prompting a daring nighttime rescue mission that involved multiple helicopters and teams from various agencies. This is the second rescue involving the traverse in the past month.

The incident began when the hiker contacted AVSAR, explaining that he had gotten lost while descending the mile-long class four ridge between Little Bear Peak and Blanca Peak. AVSAR, using a SMS locator through SARTOPO, CalTopo, located the hiker in the Blanca Creek Basin.

Initial efforts to airlift the hiker were thwarted due to the pilot of Guardian Flight, the helicopter dispatched from Alamosa, timing out of flight hours. The subsequent attempt by Lifeline5 helicopter to insert two AVSAR team members using night vision goggles also failed, as the absence of ambient light made it impossible to land safely in the Basin.

As first light dawned, a registered nurse from AVSAR was inserted with another team member to provide urgent medical assistance to the hiker, whose condition had deteriorated due to extreme dehydration and hypothermia. A decision was made to execute an emergency evacuation.

The hiker and the two AVSAR team members were extracted via a Hover STEP extraction performed by Canon Helitack. REACH 29, a helicopter from Salida, was also requested for medical assistance. Upon reaching the incident command post, the hiker was transferred to REACH29 for immediate medical treatment, supplementing the aid given in the field. The hiker was then transported to San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa.

This incident serves as a sobering reminder of the critical importance of the “ten essentials” in outdoor adventures. AVSAR highlighted that the hiker’s condition worsened because he lacked access to water and additional clothing layers. His only light source, a headlamp, was also dying.

Lessons Learned and Safety Tips

The hiker’s ordeal underscores the importance of safety precautions while hiking, particularly in challenging terrains like the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. Here are some safety tips derived from this incident:

  • Know Your Route: Familiarize yourself with the hiking trail, and stay on the marked path. Veering off established trails can lead to dangerous situations.

  • Carry the Ten Essentials: These include a map, compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, firestarter, matches, knife, and extra food.

  • Hydrate: Always carry enough water and a means to purify water from natural sources if necessary. Dehydration can lead to serious health issues.

  • Dress Appropriately: Pack extra layers of clothing to deal with changes in weather and temperatures. Hypothermia can occur even in mild temperatures if conditions are wet.

  • Carry a Reliable Light Source: Ensure you have a functioning headlamp or flashlight, with extra batteries. Visibility is key in navigating safely.

  • Let Someone Know: Always inform someone of your hiking plans and estimated return time. In case of an emergency, rescuers will know where to start.

  • Stay Calm: If you get lost, don’t panic. Stay where you are, make yourself visible, and call for help if possible.

This incident demonstrates the invaluable work performed by search and rescue organizations and the critical role of preparedness and caution in ensuring safety during outdoor adventures. Learn more about mountain safety.

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.

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