CHAFFEE COUNTY, CO – On September 14, 2023, Chaffee County Search & Rescue – North (CCSAR-N) and Chaffee County Search & Rescue – South (CCSAR-S) successfully coordinated a rescue operation to aid a 73-year-old male hiker stranded on Mt. Columbia, Colorado. The incident highlights the critical importance of proper planning and preparedness for mountain excursions, especially during the shifting seasons.
CCSAR-N received an emergency page at 05:02, concerning a hiker who had summited Mt. Columbia the previous day. While descending, the man faced a series of complications, including adverse weather conditions—rain, snow, and fog—that severely impeded his progress. Poorly equipped with only a windbreaker, sweatshirt, and jacket, the hiker was not prepared for an overnight stay on the mountain but chose to stop his descent due to the challenges.
On the following day, the subject resumed his descent before dawn but soon faced severe cold, shaking, and vomiting. He wisely dialed 911, and his altitude was identified to be approximately 13,700 feet on the east side of Mt. Columbia. He was advised to stop descending, given the increasingly treacherous terrain ahead.
A team of four CCSAR-N rescuers quickly mobilized to reach the hiker’s last known location. Assistance was also sought from Flight for Life (FFL) out of Denver, and additional rescuers were provided by CCSAR-S. By 07:30, a rescuer was flown to the SAR Bay to proceed towards the subject. The subject was located at 08:06, assessed to be medically stable, and was flown directly to the Swedish Hospital in Denver for further evaluation. By 12:57, all teams had returned from the field, concluding the mission successfully.
LESSONS LEARNED & MOUNTAIN SAFETY TIPS
This rescue mission underscores the critical importance of being prepared for unexpected conditions while hiking in the mountains. Here are some key takeaways:
Proper Gear: Always pack sufficient layers, including waterproof and insulating garments, even if you plan only for a day hike.
Weather Watch: Check the weather forecast thoroughly before you begin your hike. Be prepared for sudden changes in mountainous terrain.
Communication: Always inform someone about your hiking plans and when you expect to return. Keep a fully charged phone and a portable charger for emergencies.
Navigation Tools: Apart from your phone, have a map and compass, and know how to use them. Many people rely solely on GPS, which can fail.
Know Your Limits: This hiker was 73 years old and chose to summit Mt. Columbia. Be conscious of your physical abilities and know when to turn back.
Emergency Kit: Carry a basic first aid kit, a whistle, fire starter, and an emergency blanket.
Altitude Awareness: Understand the signs of altitude sickness and take necessary precautions like acclimatization and carrying appropriate medication.
Being prepared can be the difference between a successful hike and a life-threatening situation. Always exercise due diligence in planning and equipping for your outdoor adventures. Learn more in our mountain safety guide.