Climber hurt badly in Torreys avalanche; Quandary hiker literally blown off his feet by strong winds as spring mountaineering season starts in the high country
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — About 16 members of the Summit County Rescue Group hiked part way, then skied and snowshoed up the East Ridge trail of Quandary Peak Saturday to rescue an injured hiker, who was literally blown over by the wind, according to Becky Baylor, one of the volunteers on the mission.
Four members of the rescue group also participated in a rescue mission Friday to help evacuate a climber who was badly injured in a large avalanche near the summit of Torreys Peak.
The Quandary call came in about 11:30 a.m. and rescuers were staging at the Quandary trail head by about 12:30, Baylor said.
“A hiker had gotten up to somewhere on the saddle along the East Ridge and the wind literally blew the person over,” Baylor said. The hiker’s knee was injured in the fall and he was unable to hike back down.
Winds blew well into the 70 mph range Saturday, and the highest elevations probably experienced stronger gusts.
Baylor said another group of skiers on the mountain abandoned their bid to ski Quandary’s South Couloir because of the high winds.
Baylor said a pair of unidentified snowboarders were good samaritans, transporting the injured hiker down the mountain quite a ways. The rescue teams then put the injured middle-aged man from Denver in a litter and evacuated him the rest of the way.
“It was a great team effort and he was a great patient,” Baylor said, explaining that the man was an experience hiker who said he was training for a Denali climb.
“He knew what he was doing. It was just a fluke,” she said.
Quandary is a hotspot for rescues. It has claimed numerous accident victims over the years, in many cases when hikers veer off established trails and end up getting in a precarious spot on the mountain.
As the summer hiking season approaches, rescue workers urge hikers to be prepared for changing weather conditions with appropriate gear, including extra warm clothes, water and food on Quandary and other high country peaks. Other essentials include a topo map, compass or a GPS. Staying on the trail and letting people know where you are going is always a good idea. Personal locator beacons are also gaining in popularity and can help rescue workers pinpoint lost hikers. But the best approach is to be prepared and use common sense, according to experienced mountain guides and emergency officials.
Friday’s accident on Torreys, another popular fourteener, involved a climber on the East Face who was glissading down a snowfield about 2:30 p.m., according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. From tracks at the scene, rescue workers are assuming that the victim was caught in a wet snow slide.
The avalanche started at an elevation of about 14,000 feet and the victim was carried down the mountain about 800 vertical feet over two rock bands and suffered significant trauma. Two other parties saw the slide and called 911, triggering a major rescue mission by the Evergreen-based Alpine Rescue Team.
The avalanche center was not issuing formal avalanche hazard ratings, but snowpack discussions in the past few days pointed to the potential for dangerous wet snow slides in the backcountry, with recent snows easily sliding off an older dust crust.
Alpine climbs on spring snow require a very early start when the weather is warm, with the rule of thumb being that you should be out of any potential avalanche zones by mid-day. The snowpack can go from frozen to slushy in just a couple of hours. with the danger varying depending on which way the slope faces. East-facing slopes melt out first.
Climbers and skiers need to be on the lookout for warning signs, including deep slush at the surface and signs of trickling water under the snowpack.
The avalanche center will update snow and weather conditions through the end of May.
Hikers should consider getting a CORSAR rescue card for the summer season to help fund search and rescue teams around the state. Get more information here.